The NFL’s deadline for franchise-tagged players to ink a long-term contract passes at 4 p.m. ET today. Three of seven players who were tagged this season have yet to come to terms on new contracts: Le’Veon Bell, Kirk Cousins, and Trumaine Johnson. Sides cannot negotiate multi-year pacts after the deadline passes until the season ends.
With hours to go before the deadline, let’s run through the latest on each situation.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Player: 25-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers running back. Enters fifth season after being drafted in the second round in 2013. Bell is arguably the NFL’s top dual-threat running back and is the engine of an explosive Steelers offense. He has averaged 128.72 yards from scrimmage in 47 career regular-season games.
The Contract: $12.1 million on the one-year franchise tag. The tag number is four million more than the average per-year number in LeSean McCoy‘s five-year, $40 million contract.
Lingering question: Will a combination of injury history and suspension issues give Pittsburgh pause to invest long-term in the running back?
The Reports: NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Good Morning Football on Monday that it’s “too close to call” on whether a deal gets done. He added that while the two sides are still engaged in negotiations, a source informed of the situation says a deal is not imminent.
Rapoport’s report in full:
“Too close to call right now on whether Bell will get that blockbuster long-term extension to keep him in Pittsburgh for a long time,” he said. “Whether or not he’s going to have to go year by year on the franchise tag, this is a tough one because the tag is $12 million, far higher than any running back on the market makes right now. So Bell [is] already the highest-paid running back, would like to be the highest-paid running back on an extension. We’ll see if they get a deal done by 4 p.m. (ET). No word yet on whether it’s going to happen.”
Our Hypothesis: No long-term deal. While Bell might have the best shot to surprise today, the running back market is so surpassed — and hasn’t moved in about five years — it makes little sense for either side to budge. The $12.1 million is so much higher than the current market at the position, Bell has little incentive to lower the number. The team likely won’t want to overpay and create a new standard for the position.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins
The Player: 28-year-old Washington Redskins quarterback. Enters sixth season after being drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. Started all 32 games for the Redskins the past two seasons since taking over full-time. In two years as the starter has averaged 68.4 completion percentage, thrown 54 touchdowns to 23 interceptions, and has an average quarterback rating of 99.4. Creator of catch phrases “You like that!” and “How do you like me now?!”
The Contract: $23.9 million franchise tag. It’s the second straight season Cousins has been slapped with the tag. He played 2016 under the $19.9 franchise number.
Lingering question: Do the Redskins view Cousins as the long-term answer under center?
The Reports: NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Cousins is set to play under the franchise tag after the Redskins offer fell short. Washington raised its offer in May, which topped a previous offer of an average of around $20 million per year, Pelissero reported, but the difference in money is too much to overcome at this stage.
Our Hypothesis: No deal. Cousins plays under the tag and sets up another staring contest with the Redskins next offseason. Washington could franchise tag the QB a third straight year, but that figure would balloon to $35 million. The team could use the transition tag, which carries a number around $28.7 million, but would allow other teams to offer Cousins a contract. With former Cousins coaches littering the NFL (Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco; Sean McVay in Los Angeles), the quarterback owns the leverage to get paid huge money if he hits the open market in 2018.
Trumaine Johnson, CB, Los Angeles Rams
The Player: 27-year-old Los Angeles Rams cornerback. Enters sixth season after being drafted in the third round in 2012. The 6-foot-2 cornerback has 53 career passes defended (including 11-plus each of the past two seasons) with 16 career interceptions. Johnson is coming off a mediocre season while being paid as one of the top cover-men in the NFL.
The Contract: $16.7 million franchise tag. Like Cousins, Johnson was slapped with the franchise tag for the second straight season. The CB earned $13.9 million in 2016.
Lingering question: Is Johnson a fit in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ system?
The Reports: Rapoport reported on Good Morning Football that Johnson would play on the tag for the second straight season. The Rams attempted to trade Johnson this offseason, but nothing materialized. Rapoport classified extension talks between the sides as “less fruitful” than the trade discussions.
Our Hypothesis: No dice. There has been little chance of a long-term deal almost since the moment the Rams used the tag on the CB again. Johnson’s one-year franchise tag number pays him as the top corner on a per-year basis. His play on the field last year suggested he’s closer to the 15th best corner. The Rams‘ front office backed itself into a proverbial corner in their dealings with Johnson. In 2016, the team chose to franchise tag Johnson instead of Janoris Jenkins in part because it reportedly believed Johnson would be easier to sign long term. Swing and a miss. Los Angeles is staring down the prospect of paying Johnson $30.6 million for two years of work and then watching the corner walk away for nothing in 2018.
Other players who have signed long-term contracts after being franchise tagged in 2017:
Melvin Ingram, DE, Los Angeles Chargers: four-year, $66 million contract with $42 million guaranteed.
Chandler Jones, OLB, Arizona Cardinals: five-year, $82.5 million contract with $53 million guaranteed.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants: four-year, $62 million contract with $40 million guaranteed.
Kawann Short, DT, Carolina Panthers: five-year, $80.5 million contract with $45 million guaranteed.