The deadline to sign franchise tag players to a long term deal passed at 4pm EST on Monday July 17th. Now that the deadline has passed, the Rams’ Trumaine Johnson, Redskins’ Kirk Cousins and Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell must play the 2017 under the franchise tag or not play at all. All three teams face a year long looming decision on what to do with their franchise players next offseason.
Johnson will be playing under the franchise tag for a second consecutive year. The Rams won’t publicly admit this but they probably regret choosing to tag Johnson over former cornerback Janoris Jenkins; who has played well with the Giants last season. The Rams front office and Johnson currently have a rocky relationship that is probably beyond repair. The two sides didn’t negotiate over the last couple of months and Johnson is expected to play the season on the tag.
With that belief in place, the Rams have a couple of options. The most likely option is Johnson plays out the season on the tag, leave as a free agent and the Rams wait for a 2019 third round compensatory pick. The next likely option is the Rams hope Johnson plays well to start the season and trade him before the November 1st trade deadline to a team in need of a cornerback who can sign him long-term.
A few teams who could be potential trade partners with the Rams include the Packers, Cowboys, Jets and 49ers. All four teams still lack a number one cornerback, like Johnson, and could be in the middle of a playoff chase or looking to add a young player to their young roster. The least likely option would be for the Rams to tag Johnson for a third straight year and then try and trade him. Because the franchise tag number takes a huge spike up in the third season it could cause the Rams to accept their losses and let Johnson walk.
Unless you have been living under a rock the past two seasons, you know the Redskins have botched their contract negotiations with Cousins. Like Johnson, Cousins will play the 2017 season under the franchise tag for the second consecutive season. The team has had internal discussions on Cousins’ contract value; reportedly they are all over the road. Right before the deadline passed Monday, the Redskins offered Cousins a five year deal but it only included $53 million guaranteed.
Given at his franchise tag this season already guarantees him $23.9 million, all Cousins would be getting in this new deal is $29.1 million. That is less money than Cousins would get next season on the franchise tag; it’s clear why he said no to this deal. Basically what it sums up to is the Redskins feel Cousins is closer to a Mike Glennon value ($18.5 million guaranteed) then a Derek Carr value ($70.2 million guaranteed). My opinion is Cousins should be paid similarly to Carr but a little less guaranteed, around the $65 million range.
There is conflicting reports of where the Redskins and Cousins relationship is currently at. Some reports suggest the Cousins already has one foot out the door for San Francisco or Los Angeles. Other reports suggest that Cousins wants to stay long-term with the Redskins and is just working on building up his value on year-to-year deals. The Redskins will have to judge the temperature of Cousins as the season goes on to determine if they think he wants to stay long-term.
The team could always try and trade Cousins midseason, but that would be very difficult with his high cap number. That leaves the Redskins with two realistic options after the season. They can either franchise tag Cousins again at a number. Projections expect the third year tag to be over $30 million. If they tag him they can try to negotiate a long-term deal; but why would Cousins with that much money guaranteed?
The more likely option is the team puts the transition tag on Cousins. The transition tag allows the Redskins to match any contract Cousins signs if they want, but if the Redskins decide not to match or can’t match then they lose Cousins for nothing; and they lose their potential 2019 third round compensatory pick. The Redskins put themselves in this squeeze and have no one to blame but themselves. Their best bet is to treat Cousins like a king, throw big money at him this spring and pray he can forgive the team for being stupid. When you have a franchise quarterback, you pay them, no matter what it takes.
The Steelers were in a tough spot with Bell. On the tag this season, Bell will make more money then any other running this season. However, the Steelers didn’t want to set the running back market and rather pay Bell a little more on an one year deal. Another concern for the team is Bell’s history of missing games; either because of injury or suspension.
In four seasons Bell has missed 17 out of 64 career games. On average Bell misses just over four games a season or 25% of the season. For the Steelers, that has to be a big concern for them. It might keep them from investing big money in the easiest position to replace. The good news for the Steelers is they have a good relationship with Bell and both sides want to try to negotiate a long-term deal after the season.
Unlike the other two players on this list, Bell is only a first year tagged player, meaning the Steelers can tag him again at a similar cost next year. The Steelers have no plans to trade Bell this season, and unless he gets into legal trouble again, the team shouldn’t trade him. After the season the Steelers can either tag him again or let him walk on the open market and collect a 2019 third round compensatory pick. If Bell stays out of legal trouble and healthy, I expect the Steelers to work out a long-term deal with him. The deal should make Bell the highest paid running back in the league with a high percentage in guaranteed dollars, but all the guaranteed money within the first two or three years.
This way when Bell gets older or his injuries come back the Steelers can move on without a major cap hit. There is a chance the Steelers take advantage of a good 2018 running back draft class and let Bell walk. If Bell leaves as a free agent the Lions and Colts are two teams that reportedly would be willing to offer Bell big money next spring.
During the season teams and player agents aren’t allowed to negotiate a long-term deal according to NFL rules, but anyone who believes that rule is followed is a fool. I expect all three teams to try and work out a long-term deal with their franchise tag player before the end of the 2017 season. However, my belief is Bell will sign a long-term deal in Pittsburgh, Johnson will be a free agent this coming spring and Cousins will need to be really loved by the Redskins offer because otherwise the team could face a messy and difficult offseason in the spring.