NFL franchise tag winners and losers: Baker Mayfield, good news for RBs and more

The NFL kicked off its roster-building season on Tuesday with the deadline for teams to apply the franchise tag.

Eight players received the franchise tag and one received the transition tag. Wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Dalton Schultz were among those who agreed to contract extensions, while teams like the Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars began to reduce cap space by releasing key players.

Of course, there's still plenty to do before Monday, when the negotiating period leads to free agency. Mars resembles a soft open in that sense.

As always, not all tags are created equal. Here are several winners and losers from the deadline.


Baker Mayfield

It doesn't look like Mayfield will be marked by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the 28-year-old will be one of the top two quarterbacks in free agency on Tuesday.

There is hope that Mayfield and the Bucs can build on their first season together and extend it. If it doesn't go away before the start of free agency next week, Mayfield could have several other suitors, and that could set him up to push for something similar to the four-year, $160 million deal Daniel Jones signed last offseason.

While that's a surprising number, there are currently 11 quarterbacks on contracts worth at least $40 million in average annual value. Free agent Kirk Cousins ​​could soon join that club, and Trevor Lawrence and Jordan Love could surpass that number if they receive new contracts this offseason. So can Tua Tagoailoa and Jared Goff.

That's the market right now. If Mayfield makes $40 million a year, there's a good chance he'll be among 17 QBs in that number at the start of the 2024 season. He delivered his best season in 2023 and helped the Bucks win a playoff game. Mayfield should certainly feel like he deserves to be paid as one of the 17 best quarterbacks in the league.

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Keep an eye on the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings if they go south with the Bucks. Falcons head coach Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Jack Robinson worked with Mayfield in Los Angeles in 2022, while Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell should have good knowledge of Mayfield due to his mutual ties to the Rams.

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Mayfield has struggled to find a fit over the past two seasons, but he could be on the verge of signing a life-changing contract in the coming weeks.

Running on the back

Ball carriers have clamored for a chance to get paid for years, and now they have it — at least a chance.

We'll find out soon if anything changes, but at least they realize their value rather than speculating about what it might be.

Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard are unencumbered by the second franchise tag. None came away from major injuries. All are 27 or younger. All produced at least 1,100 yards from scrimmage last season.

And the league recently announced an additional $30 million increase in the salary cap for teams. If a veteran running back is ever going to get paid, this should theoretically be the right time, right?

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The RB market tanked last season. Is there any reason to think it will bounce back?

Well, they'll be competing for jobs on the market with the likes of Derrick Henry, D'Andre Swift, Zach Moss, Austin Egeler, Devin Singletary and Gus Edwards. That group represents two or three financial tiers based on upcoming contracts, so teams can decide which type of player will stretch their dollar the furthest. Then, of course, draft will be a factor.

Five running backs (Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Jonathan Taylor, Nick Chubb and Aaron Jones) play on contracts worth at least $11.5 million annually. It wouldn't be a shock to see at least one of those contracts reworked this offseason to reduce value.

Beyond the five-man team, the next tier of backs should be $7 million annually. There is no gradual decline from the first and second levels as in other levels, and the population of the upper class has been shrinking over the years.

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It could also be a free-agent team that swings the pendulum back in favor of running backs. Or they will continue to be frustrated by a sluggish market.

Either way, they are included in the “winners” category because they at least get the answers they've been looking for for a while.

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Christian Wilkins, Mike Onwenu and Xavier McKinney

All three avoided the tag, and all three will now enter free agency in their respective tiers.

(First a quick qualifier, though: Chris Jones is clearly the best defensive tackle — and perhaps the best player overall — in free agency. Whether he stays with the Chiefs or goes elsewhere, his market is unique and apples-to-apples with Wilkins. Jones is in line to get a better deal. appeared, and Wilkins stands alone as the best of the rest.)

Wilkins also benefited from marking Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madupuk. When the New England Patriots used safety Kyle Tucker, Onwenu escaped the tag. McKinney's market also rose when Tucker was tagged, not to mention Antoine Winfield Jr.

The Patriots' right to repudiate Tucker's contract could theoretically be a deterrent to other teams that might fear fitting a long window that could interfere with their other free-agent plans. Or, teams may be reluctant to do the Patriots' bidding because the transition tag is rarely used. Teams can prioritize McKinney in any situation.

Wilkins and Onwenu are about to get paid. All is quiet on the Onwenu front, so we're left to speculate here, but it makes sense to think the Patriots are fine with extending him. Otherwise, why would they let such an important offensive lineman — a dire need in New England — walk freely on the open market? Could Onwenu become the new regime's first big money extension?

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Josh Allen and Brian Burns

The two best pass rushers on the market aren't going anywhere. Teams didn't give up two first-round picks and historic contracts to see Allen from Jacksonville or Burns from Carolina.

Based on Montes Sweat's recent deal with the Chicago Bears (four years, $98 million, $42 million fully guaranteed), Allen and Burns could be eyeing a deal worth a total in the nine-figure neighborhood. Now, they're on the books for about $24 million through 2024.

Maybe those new deals will come. The Jaguars know how important it is to build their defense around Allen, and it's reasonable to think Trevor Lawrence would love to get the Jags' homegrown talent extensions. He certainly doesn't want to sign a historic extension and then see a reduction in the Jags' post-2017 slump under the previous regime. General manager Trent Baalke discussed the importance of keeping Allen long-term.

Meanwhile, the Panthers have been hoping to get Burns to a deal for years, but here they are. Perhaps new general manager Dan Morgan will set the tone and try to reward Burns with a big extension.

But until — or until — that happens, Allen and Burns will have to wait for their pay.

Receiver-necessary teams

So you're saying you need a wide receiver? Then it's not your day.

Dee Higgins and Michael Pittman Jr. were tagged, and Evans signed a contract extension with the Bucks. That leaves Calvin Ridley, Marquise Brown, Gabe Davis, Darnell Mooney, Tyler Boyd, Odell Beckham Jr. and Curtis Samuel among the top wideouts in free agency.

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Teams in need of a wideout may have to offer No. 1 money to Ridley or Brown. Otherwise, personnel departments will differentiate themselves as they evaluate pro personnel and draft prospects to determine the next move.

(Photos of Saquon Barkley, Baker Mayfield and Brian Burns by: Michael Owens, Kevin Sapitus and Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

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