The franchise and transition tag window officially opened this week and teams will have until March 9th to decide if they want to use it on a player. Dak Prescott and Justin Simmons are likely to get tagged for a second consecutive offseason. Allen Robinson and Kenny Golladay are likely to get slapped with the tag. But there are some rock-solid, under-the-radar players who could end up finding their way to the open market.
Here are 10 names to keep an eye on….
So many teams need pass-rush help and Hendrickson is coming off a season with 13.5 sacks and is just 26 years old. He was also tied for eighth with 25 quarterback hits. The Saints have a cap mess to navigate through and are likely to allow Hendrickson to hit the open market. The former third-round pick is due for a large payday.
Jackson is a borderline No. 1 corner and those are tough to find in the NFL. The Bengals will consider using the tag in this situation and the franchise tag number is likely to fall in the $15M range. However, the Bengals already gave cornerback Trae Waynes a hefty contract last offseason (3 years, $42M) and it’s fair to wonder if they would invest another $15M per year at the position.
Johnson is the Rams captain and was given defensive signal-calling duties this past year. He had arguably his best season in 2020, leading the team with 105 tackles. His impact was even greater than what the box score shows. He allowed only 4.4 yards per target and zero touchdowns in coverage.
Moton is not a household name, but the former second-round pick has been productive for Carolina. In fact, he has never missed a game and has started 48 games in a row. There’s a possibility the Panthers end up using the franchise tag on him.
Just like Moton, Samuel was also a second-round pick by the Panthers. He excelled this past season in the first year with Matt Rhule and Joe Brady, setting career highs with 77 catches for 851 yards and also carrying the ball 41 times for 200 yards. With the right offensive coach, Samuel is a fun player. Albert Breer of SI mentioned last week that Washington could be a possibility with Ron Rivera and Marty Hurney there.
Smith set career highs last season with 41 receptions for 448 yards and also scored eight touchdowns, which was tied for fourth most among tight ends. He’s still only 25 years old and there’s a case to be made that he might have the most upside from all the tight ends available.
Thuney was franchise tagged by the Patriots last offseason, so it’s unlikely that he’ll be tagged again. The 28-year old has been a starter for the last five years and has never missed a game. He’s been Mr. Reliable upfront and he’s expected to have a hot market.
Linsley, who was voted First-Team All-Pro in 2020, recently told SiriusXM that he expects to be somewhere else next season. He ranked fifth among centers in pass-block win rate, and he will be the top option for teams in the market for a center.
Tomlinson has started 64 games in four seasons and has been a steady presence on the Giants defensive line. He’s known more for being a run-stopping defensive tackle, but some view him as a player with pass-rushing upside. The Giants also have Leonard Williams on an expiring contract, so there’s a chance Tomlinson finds his way to the open market.
The AP reported last week that Milano is expected to test the open market. A true three-down linebacker, Milano has started 38 games in his four seasons with Buffalo, but was limited to just 10 games and five starts last season. As a result, the Bills were much worse defensively without him on the field. He has great instincts and has had success in both zone and man coverage. He’ll be 27 years old at the start of next season.
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