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Franchise tag primer: Chris Jones again headlines tender decisions

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The window for NFL teams to assign the franchise and transition tags begins Feb. 20 and ends at 4 p.m. ET on March 5. Teams can use only one tag per offseason.

The franchise tag restricts a player's rights in free agency while offering them a one-year contract. The tender's cost is determined by 120% of the player's cap number from the previous season or the average of the top five salaries at their respective position, whichever is greater. The player can sign the tag anytime and has until July 15 to negotiate a multi-year extension. Meanwhile, the transition tag allows a player to test free agency while giving his incumbent team the right to match any offer. The transition tag is presented as a one-year deal worth the average of the top 10 salaries at the player's position.

Keep in mind that some high-profile free agents aren't considered candidates here, including Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive end Danielle Hunter, whose contracts are void after the tag designation window closes. In cases like Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans, using the tag may not make sense given how much it would cost ($28 million). Here are the top candidates for a tender in 2024, barring extensions:

(Salary projections courtesy: Over The Cap)

Candidates to get 2nd straight tag

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Chris Jones, DL, Chiefs
Projected franchise tag salary: $32.1M

Losing Jones to free agency would be massive for Kansas City, but placing the franchise tag on him for a second straight year would significantly hurt the team's ability to address other needs. A non-quarterback has never received a tag worth north of $30 million. Jones had a lengthy holdout last year while negotiating a new deal with the Chiefs. There's mutual interest again, but it won't be easy for the sides to ink a new pact if the $32-million tag number is the star lineman's starting point this offseason. One of the best defensive linemen of his generation, Jones is in a position to demand a lot of money. A tag-and-trade scenario could be in play if K.C. decides not to reward Jones ahead of his age-30 season.

Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Projected franchise tag salary: $12M

The Giants could tag Barkley for a second straight year. He received the 2023 tag and later agreed to a revised one-year contract. New York will keep negotiating, and given the state of the running back market, Barkley might not get what he wants from the team again. That's why buying time could be important for both sides. The 27-year-old recently said he'd be OK getting the designation as long as it happens early in the franchise-tag window. Despite his injury history, keeping Barkley, their best offensive player, should be a priority for the Giants.


Tee Higgins, WR, Bengals
Projected franchise tag salary: $21.6M

The Bengals couldn't extend Higgins in 2023 and now have a big decision to make regarding his future. The 25-year-old is Cincy's No. 2 receiver, but other teams would certainly pay him as a No. 1 guy if he hits the open market. Cincinnati can't let that happen and presumably needs time to negotiate, so placing the tag on the two-time 1,000-yard receiver makes sense. Ja'Marr Chase is also eligible for an extension. It'll be interesting to see how that potentially affects Higgins' deal.

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Josh Allen, LB, Jaguars
Projected franchise tag salary: $21.9M

The Jaguars plan to keep Allen, but it's unclear if the sides will agree on a long-term contract. Jacksonville using the tag on the two-time Pro Bowler seems inevitable since it sounds like negotiations will take time. Allen is a cornerstone of the team's defense and is coming off the best campaign of his career. The 26-year-old set a Jaguars single-season record with 17.5 sacks in 2023.

Brian Burns, LB, Panthers
Projected franchise tag salary: $21.9M

All signs point to the Panthers and Burns needing extra time to negotiate a lucrative long-term contract. The 2019 first-round pick is Carolina's best pass-rusher, posting 95 quarterback hits and 46 sacks in five seasons. He's only 25 and wants to become one of the league's highest-paid players at a position topped by Nick Bosa with a $34-million average annual salary. By rejecting massive trade offers for Burns in recent years, the Panthers showed that they hope to keep the star defender. Finding the right number could be hard.

Michael Pittman Jr., WR, Colts
Projected franchise tag salary: $21.6M

Letting Pittman - their No. 1 receiver - test free agency would be a disaster for the Colts, who have to continue to build around quarterback Anthony Richardson. But Indianapolis isn't expected to let Pittman hit the open market and has enough cap space to use the franchise tag if needed. The 26-year-old set a career high with 109 catches for 1,152 yards and four touchdowns in 2023.

Likely to be tagged

Jaylon Johnson, CB, Bears
Projected franchise tag salary: $18.4M

Johnson and the Bears had ups and downs recently as they unsuccessfully negotiated a new contract. The 24-year-old reportedly requested a trade in October, but Chicago didn't move him. Johnson then said he hopes to remain with the team, though he added he's looking to become the NFL's highest-paid corner. The Bears have cap space to keep Johnson but will likely need time to negotiate. He amassed 10 pass breakups and four interceptions (one pick-6) in 2023 to earn his first All-Pro berth.

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Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Buccaneers
Projected franchise tag salary: $17.2M

The Bucs have several unrestricted 2024 free agents, but Winfield should be one of their main priorities. A first-team All-Pro, he finished last season with 122 tackles, 12 pass breakups, six sacks, six forced fumbles, and three interceptions. Winfield isn't going anywhere. Tampa Bay might be able to sign the star defensive back to a long-term deal by March. If not, the franchise tag will be in play.

Christian Wilkins, DT, Dolphins
Projected franchise tag salary: $19.7M

Miami shouldn't let Wilkins leave in free agency. And after they failed to sign a long-term deal in 2023, we expect negotiations to take time in 2024. The market for interior linemen was reset in the past 12 months, and the 28-year-old Wilkins set career highs with 23 QB hits and nine sacks. However, the Dolphins are $52 million over the projected salary cap.

Justin Madubuike, DT, Ravens
Projected franchise tag salary: $19.7M

The Ravens don't have much cap space but need to do everything they can to keep Madubuike after his spectacular breakout campaign. Buying some time using the franchise tag makes sense as Baltimore continues negotiating a lucrative long-term pact with the 26-year-old. The former third-round pick was one of football's best interior defensive linemen in 2023, recording 33 QB hits and 13 sacks to earn a second-team All-Pro nod.

Could be tagged

L'Jarius Sneed, CB, Chiefs
Projected franchise tag salary: $18.4M

A main priority for the Chiefs is re-signing Jones and Sneed. If K.C. signs a new deal with Jones soon or lets him test free agency, the reigning Super Bowl champions could use the tag on Sneed instead. The former fourth-round pick is a major part of the Chiefs' secondary and forms arguably the NFL's best duo of corners along with Trent McDuffie.

Baker Mayfield, QB, Buccaneers
Projected franchise tag salary: $35.9M

Winfield is the most likely Bucs player to receive the tag if Tampa Bay uses it, but Mayfield could also become a candidate depending on how negotiations unfold. Granted, that would cost a lot. However, what Mayfield's next contract will look like is one of this offseason's greatest mysteries. Are the Bucs sold on his career resurgence after last year? While playing on a cheap one-year contract, the former No. 1 pick set career highs with 4,044 yards and 28 touchdowns to help the club claim the NFC South and win a playoff game.

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Kamren Curl, S, Commanders
Projected franchise tag salary: $17.2M

Curl will likely be the target if Washington uses the tag. The 24-year-old has been a nice surprise since being drafted in the seventh round in 2020, appearing in 60 career games. However, Curl hasn't recorded an interception since his three-INT rookie campaign. With a new general manager and head coach in town, the Commanders may not use the 2024 tag. They have a lot of cap space and could explore free agency to reshape the roster.

Kyle Dugger, S, Patriots
Projected franchise tag salary: $17.2M

The Patriots have multiple tag candidates between Dugger, offensive lineman Michael Onwenu, and tight end Hunter Henry. But they're not locks, and their futures could depend on new head coach Jerod Mayo's approach to free agency. Dugger played 98% of New England's defensive snaps and tied a team-high two interceptions in 2023. He also ranked third in tackles (109) and second in pass breakups (seven). There's speculation the 27-year-old would like to hit the open market, but Mayo and Co. could use the tag to get more negotiation time if they see him as a top priority. A multi-year deal worth between $12 million and $15 million is more fitting for the versatile defender.

Xavier McKinney, S, Giants
Projected franchise tag salary: $17.2M

The Giants will try to keep McKinney, a team captain coming off a strong season and boasting solid coverage skills and tackling ability. But here's why the 24-year-old receiving the tag is far from a lock: the tender may be too expensive for a defender who's missed 17 games due to injury in four seasons. Plus, the Giants might have to place their tag on Barkley instead.

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Bryce Huff, DE, Jets
Projected transition tag salary: $20.1M

It's unlikely that Huff gets tagged, but the 25-year-old did break out in 2023. Despite appearing in only 42% of New York's defensive snaps, Huff recorded 21 QB hits and 10 sacks, likely playing his way out of the team's price range. Given his number of snaps, it would be surprising if the Jets placed the franchise tag (projected at $23.3 million for a defensive end) on him. However, New York could potentially use its transition tag. In that case, the club would get no compensation if Huff joins another team, but it'd have the right of first refusal. It's expensive, but Huff's ceiling is very high.

Jonathan Greenard, DE, Texans
Projected franchise tag salary: $23.3M

Houston would love to keep Greenard after the 26-year-old posted a breakout season with 12.5 sacks in 15 games last year. But the former third-round pick battled injuries and has yet to play a full NFL campaign. Placing a tag worth more than $20 million on Greenard is unlikely, even for a Texans team with enough cap space.

Marquise Brown, WR, Cardinals
Projected franchise tag salary: $21.6M

The Cardinals have wide receiver issues and don't roster another high-profile free agent, so Brown has been rumored as a tag candidate for Arizona, which traded a first-round pick for him in 2022. But the 26-year-old struggled to stay healthy and caught only 1,283 yards and seven touchdowns in two seasons with the NFC West team.

Leonard Williams, DT, Seahawks
Projected franchise tag salary: $36M

As much as Seattle would like to retain Williams after trading two picks for him midseason, using the tag isn't a great option. It would cost a lot more than the projected tender for defensive tackles ($19.7 million) since Williams received the tag from the Giants in 2020 and 2021. Not only are the Seahawks tight on salary cap space, but general manager John Schneider has been reluctant to use the tag in the past.

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