One of the first orders of business for the 2022 NFL offseason will be teams deciding whether or not to place the franchise tag on one of their pending free agents — and it can only be one, so they must choose wisely. Before free agency begins with the legal tampering period on March 14th, teams have a two-week window from February 22nd to March 8th to place a franchise or transition tag on one of their key players.
This means that business will be well underway just one week after Super Bowl 56.
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With these major decisions looming around the corner, let's take a look at the top franchise-tag candidate for each of the 32 NFL teams. While the 2021 offseason had strong candidates in almost every building, there are fewer obvious choices this year. However, as we saw with Jacksonville Jaguars tackle Cam Robinson last year, there are always potential surprises.
Franchise tag values are courtesy of CBS Sports salary cap expert Joel Corry.
JUMP TO A TEAM:
ARIZONA CARDINALS: N/A
Edge defender Chandler Jones has already been franchise-tagged once in his career, meaning a potential tag this offseason would his second. The value would be 120% of his 2021 “salary” (as defined in this section of the CBA), which would be close to $25 million. Therefore, there are no candidates that make sense in Arizona.
ATLANTA FALCONS: N/A
The only player who has a greater than 0% chance of being considered for a franchise tag would be linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, who posted 192 combined tackles in 2021. However, the linebacker franchise tag rarely gets placed on off-ball linebackers because the calculation includes 3-4 outside linebackers, such as edge defenders Khalil Mack and T.J. Watt.
Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot will likely explore value moves over big deals in free agency even though the NFC South is arguably the NFL's most wide-open division for 2022.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: N/A
The Ravens will be plenty busy negotiating an extension with quarterback Lamar Jackson while continuing to build around their dynamic superstar, so no franchise tags appear likely.
BUFFALO BILLS: N/A
Bills general manager Brandon Beane has made it a point to extend his guys early, and as a result, there aren’t any major contributors hitting unrestricted free agency this offseason. Look for Buffalo to re-tool and reload for another Super Bowl push in 2022 — perhaps focusing more on changing the NFL’s playoff overtime rules or, more importantly, working on their 13-second prevent defense.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: N/A
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore was acquired in a trade for a sixth-round pick from the New England Patriots in 2021, and he earned a 79.4 coverage grade on over 150 coverage snaps to close out the second half of the season in Carolina. He’s still capable of playing at an elite level but figures to sign an extension or move elsewhere at this stage in his career.
Linebacker Haason Reddick has 100 quarterback pressures over the past two seasons with double-digit sacks in each, showing he can be productive with a quick first step when deployed as an edge defender. Nevertheless, an $18.7 million projected 2022 franchise tag may be too much for Carolina as it looks to add more resources to its offensive line.
CHICAGO BEARS: N/A
Guard James Daniels is the only Bears free agent under any consideration for a franchise tag this offseason, as placing a second consecutive franchise tag on wide receiver Allen Robinson that's worth roughly $21.5 million is very unlikely. Offensive linemen all receive one franchise-tag value, meaning left tackles and centers are subject to the same amount.
The 2022 franchise tag for offensive linemen is projected at $16.662 million, which is well above PFF’s projected per year average for Daniels in PFF’s top 100 free agents.
Interior offensive linemen often aren't tagged. Nevertheless, the Washington Commanders — for some reason — franchise-tagged guard Brandon Scherff in consecutive offseasons, so it can happen. It just probably won't happen here.
2021 overall grade: 56.2 (2021 playoffs: 88.1)
Projected franchise tag number: $12,911,000
Bates was PFF’s No. 1 rated safety for the 2020 season (90.1 grade), and we examined why the Bengals should have signed him to an early extension last offseason. While the variance of play at the safety position certainly showed up in 2021 with Bates’ poor regular season, he has certainly shown up at the right time, as Bates’ 88.1 playoff grade is the best from a safety through the conference championship round over the last five seasons.
2021 overall grade: 70.9
Projected franchise tag number: $10,931,000
Njoku had a more efficient contract year than Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith in 2020, posting higher yards per route run (1.56) and more yards gained after contact (138) on fewer receptions than Henry or Smith. Coming off the fifth-year option, Njoku will still only be 26 years old in 2021 and has shown several flashes of being a quality tight end. Cleveland may feel inclined to use the franchise tag while working towards a multi-year agreement.