NFL franchise tag tracker: Who's getting paid for 2021; what's next

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The 2021 NFL offseason is beginning in earnest as teams applied the franchise tag to players entering NFL free agency.

The franchise tag binds the player to the team for one season. Franchise tag figures are based on the top five salaries at each position. The NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to raise the salary-cap floor from $175 million to $180 million. The salary cap could settle between $180 million and $185 million, a sizable drop from the 2020 cap of $198.2 million, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano.

The 2021 league year begins March 17.

Here's a look at the 10 players who have been tagged, the reasons why and the tag figure (players are listed alphabetically):

Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Franchise tag salary: Expected to be $16.5 million (salary cap pending)

Season: Fifth

Career highlights: Godwin was hampered by injuries in 2020 -- a hamstring strain, a concussion and he played with 10 pins in his broken index finger -- yet he still had 840 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 12 regular-season games, and led all Bucs wide receivers with 16 catches in the postseason, including a 27-yard touchdown catch in the wild-card win at Washington. Godwin's best season came in 2019 though, when he finished with 1,333 receiving yards and nine touchdowns -- third and fourth-most in the NFL respectively -- despite missing the final two games of the season with a hamstring injury.

Why he was tagged: A long-term deal is still the goal for both sides. Godwin loves Tampa Bay and they love him. Most importantly, quarterback Tom Brady loves him, and this ensured Brady would have not one, but two No. 1 wide receivers in Godwin and Mike Evans, as Brady shifts his focus to winning his eighth Super Bowl.

What he brings: Godwin's ability to concentrate on difficult catches and consistency are his strong suits. His 74.0% receiving percentage in the past two years is third in the NFL behindMichael Thomas and Tyler Lockett. Godwin is a strong run-blocker, and he's very versatile, lining up inside and outside. -- Jenna Laine

Marcus Maye, S, New York Jets

Franchise tag salary:Expected to be $10.5 million(salary cap pending)

Season: Fifth

Career highlights:After three seasons of playing in the shadow of Jamal Adams, the former second-round pick flourished last season as the leader on defense. Maye played every defensive snap, intercepted two passes and recorded two sacks and two forced fumbles. He was credited with 11 passes defensed, which tied for third among league safeties, according to NFL Next Gen Stats; and he allowed a 66.9 passer rating as the closest defender, which ranked second for safeties (minimum: 500 coverage snaps). He is a four-year starter who played every game in all but one season.

Why he was tagged: The two sides aren't close to a long-term agreement. Negotiations took a bad turn last week, when Maye's agent criticized the Jets on Twitter. Truth is, the Jets have a poor track record for retaining their own players. They say the goal is to lock up Maye, a captain and team-voted MVP, but that's a familiar song (see: Adams) that doesn't play well. At $10.5 million, nearly a $1 million decrease from last year, it made all the sense in the world to use the franchise tag for the first time since 2016 (defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson).

What he brings: Maye is a good free safety but not an elite one, and he also is capable of playing in the box as a strong safety. The previous coaching staff, desperate to replace Adams, used Maye at strong safety for a few games last season. The results were mixed. Make no mistake, Maye is a natural free safety. It's an important position in coach Robert Saleh's defense, which employs a lot of single-high looks. The knock on Maye is he doesn't intercept many passes -- only six in four years. That's what separates him from the top players at his position. His age (28 on Tuesday) is worth noting; he is two years older than most of the first-time free agents. -- Rich Cimini

Taylor Moton, RT, Carolina Panthers

Franchise tag salary: Expected to be $13.6 million (salary cap pending)

Season: Fifth

Career highlights: The 2017 second-round pick out of Western Michigan hasn't missed a game since becoming the starter in 2018. He gave up only three sacks and had only two penalties in 2020, earning an 81.2 grade from Pro Football Focus. He has earned at least a 76.0 grade from PFF the past three seasons and has scored among the top 20 in run blocking and pass protection the past two seasons.

Why he was tagged: Simple. A long-term deal couldn't be reached before the tag period ended. This also was the simplest way to lock down Moton, who likely would have been in high demand in free agency. The move also leaves enough money for the Panthers to rebuild the rest of the offensive line in addition to other needs. Only center Matt Paradis was under contract among the starters from 2020 before this move.

What he brings: Moton, 26, has the work ethic and attitude coach Matt Rhule demands and wants to build around. "He's an excellent player," Rhule said late last season. "He's an excellent professional. He's an even better person. When we talk about the brand, he's all of that." Moton also is durable, having started the past 48 regular-season games. -- David Newton

Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

Franchise tag salary: Expected to be $37.7 million (salary cap pending)

Season: Sixth

Career highlights: A fourth-round pick in 2016 by the Cowboys, Prescott played in and started the first 69 games of his career before suffering a dislocated and compound fracture of his right ankle in Week 5 last season. He has posted a 42-27 record and taken the Cowboys to the playoffs in two of his four full seasons with two Pro Bowl selections. His 1,690 yards passing in the first four games of 2020 was an NFL record and he became the first quarterback to throw for at least 450 yards in three straight games.

Why he was tagged: Procedurally, the Cowboys had to tag Prescott because he has not yet signed the four-year, $160 million deal he agreed to on Monday. By using the tag on him for a second straight year at a cost of $37.7 million, the Cowboys would have had to have used a third tag on him in 2025 at a cost of $68 million. Alas, the deal Prescott agreed to is six years and does not void until after the franchise tag deadline passes in 2025.

What he brings: He is the unquestioned leader of this team. The Cowboys suffered last season without Prescott; the offense scored one touchdown in their first three games without him. He has developed tremendously as a passer over the years and is a threat to hurt defenses on the ground as well. Coming off the ankle injury, it will be interesting to see if Prescott continues to play the same way, but the expectation is he will be 100% healthy during the offseason. The Cowboys paid a premium to keep him with $126 million guaranteed over three years because they believe he can end a Super Bowl drought that has reached 25 years. -- Todd Archer

Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears

Franchise tag salary: Expected to be $18 million(salary cap pending)

Season: Eight

Career highlights: Robinson, 27, caught a career-high 102 passes for 1,250 yards in 2020 even as the Bears' offense struggled to find its groove until a late-season three-game winning streak allowed Chicago to sneak into the playoffs at 8-8. In 2019, Robinson again led the Bears with 98 receptions for 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns. Robinson spent four years in Jacksonville (2014 to 2017), where he earned an invitation to the Pro Bowl after catching 80 passes for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015.

Why he was tagged: Simply put, Robinson is the Bears' best offensive player. There is no way to argue that Chicago would be a better team without Robinson on the roster in 2021. The Bears and Robinson's agent attempted and failed to negotiate a long-term deal last season. The Bears -- with so few offensive weapons -- could not risk losing Robinson in free agency for nothing. The key, though, will be finalizing a multi-year agreement prior to the summer deadline. The Bears don't want an unhappy Robinson, who might holdout if he doesn't receive the deal he wants.

What he brings: Is Robinson on the level of DeAndre Hopkins? No. But Robinson is still an excellent receiver capable of making a ton of contested catches. Robinson should be applauded for putting up such big numbers, given that Chicago has had one of the league's worst offenses the past two seasons. If the Bears upgrade at quarterback over Mitchell Trubisky, Robinson figures to be even more productive. -- Jeff Dickerson

Cam Robinson, LT, Jacksonville Jaguars

Franchise tag salary: Expected to be $14.507 million (salary cap pending)

Season: Fifth

Career highlights: Robinson started 15 games as a rookie in 2017 and helped running back Leonard Fournette rush for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns, making Fournette the third rookie in franchise history to surpass 1,000 yards (Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew were the others). The Jaguars led the NFL in rushing that season for the first time in franchise history as well as giving up a franchise-low 24 sacks. Robinson posted a career-best pass block win rate of 82% in 2019, one year after missing most of 2018 with a torn left ACL.

Why he was tagged: The Jaguars are drafting a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick (likely Clemson'sTrevor Lawrence) and they need a blindside protector for the rookie. Robinson is the only experienced left tackle on the roster (fourth-year player Will Richardson Jr. started one game there in 2019 and played a handful of snaps there last season). Tagging Robinson is more economical than pursuing veteranTrent Williams in free agency since he is likely to command an annual salary of $20 million or more.

What he brings: Unfortunately for the Jaguars, Robinson has not developed as much as hoped since his rookie season. Especially as a pass-blocker. He has a tendency to reach and has struggled at times with his footwork. Last season, per ESPN Stats & Information, Robinson ranked 59th out of 62 qualifiers at tackle in pass block win rate. He has been a good run-blocker, but he needs to be more consistent in pass protection. -- Michael DiRocco

Brandon Scherff, G, Washington Football Team

Franchise tag salary: Expected to be $18.03 million (salary cap pending)

Season: Seventh

Career highlights: Four-time Pro Bowler; first-team All-Pro in 2020

Why he was tagged: It has long been a tricky negotiation with Scherff, whose play warrants being paid at the top of the market for a guard. Previous years ended in deals turned down. But he also has known Washington would keep him under the tag, increasing his ability to make more money -- as long as he was willing to play on one-year deals. The team's desire remains to sign him to a long-term deal, and Scherff was effusive in saying he wants to stick around. Placing the tag on him gives Washington the ability to keep working toward a long-term contract.

What he brings: Scherff provides Washington with elite guard play, which is why he became the team's first All-Pro since 1996. He is a quiet force on the offensive line, pairing with right tackle Morgan Moses and center Chase Roullier to give Washington a solid trio up front. But Scherff also has shown he can be a dominant run-blocker, both at the line and in space. And he has proved himself as a pass-protector, as well. He fits the mold of a player whom coach Ron Rivera wants -- an excellent worker with a tough mindset. -- John Keim

Justin Simmons, S, Denver Broncos

Franchise tag salary: Expected to be about $13.729 million (salary cap pending)

Season: Sixth

Career highlights: Over the past two seasons Simmons has been selected as a second-team All-Pro (2019) and to the Pro Bowl (2020). He has 12 interceptions over the past three seasons combined and topped 90 tackles in each. Simmons has also played every defensive snap in each of the past three seasons and has not played fewer than 74% of the defensive snaps since his rookie year in 2016. Broncos coach Vic Fangio has simply said: "Justin is a great player ... we love him.''

Why he was tagged: Simmons played on the franchise player tag last season, which he called "betting on myself." His representatives have been trying to hammer out a long-term deal with the Broncos. While Simmons has made it clear he would not be all that thrilled playing on the tag for a second consecutive year, Broncos general manager George Paton said as recently as Thursday he is trying to work out that long-term deal. The tag gives the Broncos the ability to negotiate with Simmons without the worry of him leaving to another team without at least the chance to match any offer. The Broncos have tagged, and then signed, players to long-term deals in the weeks that followed the tag in the past, including Demaryius Thomas and Von Miller.

What he brings: In short, everything. Simmons has the athleticism, anticipation and awareness to play the deep safety and he is also a physical player along the line of scrimmage. Simmons even lined up at cornerback when needed earlier in his career when the defense was hit by injuries. Off the field he is one of the team's most consistent and most active players in the community. -- Jeff Legwold

Leonard Williams, DL, New York Giants

Franchise tag salary: Expected to be $19.351 million (salary cap and positional grievance pending)

Season: Seventh

Career highlights: Williams was the sixth pick in the 2015 NFL draft out of USC by the New York Jets. He made the Pro Bowl in his second season when he had 67 tackles and seven sacks. But his time with the Jets was filled with ups and downs (17.5 sacks in 71 career games) and he never lived up to expectations. The Giants traded a pair of mid-round picks for Williams midway through the 2019 season, just before he was set to become a free agent. Williams finished that season with half a sack. The Giants placed the franchise tag on him last offseason. In 2020, under a new coaching staff and in Patrick Graham's defense, Williams finished with a career-best 11.5 sacks and 30 quarterback hits, good for third in the NFL. His 41 quarterback pressures were seventh among interior defensive linemen, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

Why he was tagged: Quite simply, it is a place-holder. The Giants fully intend to reach a long-term deal with Williams some time before March 17. They have to, given the enormous salary and cap number that would come by playing a second straight year on the franchise tag. Williams is the Giants' top priority this offseason as the best pass-rusher on their roster. This procedural tag makes sure he doesn't hit the open market.

What he brings: Williams is a quality player against the run and pass. He finished 2020 with a 79.8 Pro Football Focus grade, 15th among all interior defensive linemen. Even when Williams wasn't always producing sacks throughout his career, he was almost always pushing the pocket. He had at least 20 quarterback hits in three of the past four years. The veteran lineman is an invaluable piece to the Giants' roster. Williams, 27, is also still relatively young and healthy. He has never missed a game in his first six seasons because of injury. -- Jordan Raanan

Marcus Williams, S, New Orleans Saints

Franchise tag salary: Expected to be $10.5 million (salary cap pending)

Season: Five

Career highlights:Williams has been a full-time starter at free safety ever since the Saints drafted him in the second round in 2017. His 14 interceptions, including the playoffs, are tied for eighth among all NFL players over the past four years. Although he is unfortunately best known for his missed tackle against Stefon Diggs in the "Minneapolis Miracle" playoff loss to the Vikings, he has always been highly regarded both inside the Saints' building and by analytical sites. At 24, he arguably just had his best season to date -- especially as a tackler.

Why he was tagged: Keeping Williams was a top priority for the Saints heading into free agency -- even though they have severe salary-cap limitations (they were still about $50 million over the projected cap heading into this week). Fortunately the safety position comes with a much lower franchise-tag cost than other positions. The Saints would still prefer to work out a long-term extension, though, so they can lower his 2021 cap figure and move the bigger cap costs into future years.

What he brings:Williams has been known as a "ball hawk" dating back to college. But the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder also made great strides last season as a more physical player when it came to tackling and breaking up pass plays. New Orleans has improved more in the secondary than any other position during their run of four straight NFC South titles since Williams and cornerback Marshon Lattimore arrived in 2017, among others. Most importantly, Williams is still just 24 years old in a secondary that will soon need to replace older veterans like safety Malcolm Jenkins and CB Janoris Jenkins.-- Mike Triplett

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