By 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, NFL teams must decide whether they plan on using the franchise or transition tag on one of their players. The franchise tag allows teams to retain the rights of a player set to become a free agent, preventing them from negotiating with other teams. That player is locked into a one-year deal worth the average amount of the top five salaries at their position (or 120% of their previous year’s salary, whichever is higher). That player can either decide to sign that one-year contract, continue to negotiate with the team for a long-term deal, or sit out the season.
On Monday, the NFL officially set the 2022 salary cap at $208.2 million. They also announced the franchise tag set deals for each position. Here’s what those numbers are:
The Detroit Lions aren’t expected to use the franchise tag on anyone this year, as their most coveted free agents—Charles Harris and Tracy Walker—aren’t likely worth those numbers above.
However, the Lions will undoubtedly be impacted by the use of the tag from other teams. Detroit is looking to be active in the free agent market, and the fewer players that end up becoming free agents, the tougher it will be for them to find talent—and it could raise the price of the players available.
So as we get nearer to Tuesday’s deadline at 4 p.m. ET, we’ll track all the players who have received the franchise tag and note how it impacts the Lions.
Confirmed franchise tags
Bengals safety Jesse Bates
Considered one of the top free-agent safeties after balling out in the playoffs, Bates erases one of Detroit’s best options to fill their safety vacancy. Detroit currently only has two safeties under contract—Will Harris and Brady Breeze—and neither are considered long-term answers. At 25 years old, Bates is due for a big payday, but it looks like the Bengals will be cutting the check.
That leaves the following players at the top of the free agent safety market: Saints’ Marcus Williams, Chiefs’ Tyrann Mathieu, Seahawks’ Quandre Diggs and the Buccaneers’ Jordan Whitehead.
Chiefs offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
This doesn’t have too much impact on the Lions, as Detroit has their two offensive tackles locked down in Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell. However, it’ll be interesting to see if the Chiefs end up signing Brown to a long-term deal, just to see what the market will be when/if the Lions decide to extend Sewell a few years down the road.
For those of you adamant about dangling Decker as a trade target—which, personally, I am firmly against—I suppose taking Brown off the market increases Decker’s potential return.
Browns tight end David Njoku
Easily the most surprising of the bunch, Njoku is set to get a huge payday despite an underwhelming start to his career. The former first-round pick won’t hit the market, thinning out potential options for the Lions in free agency. Detroit should be in the market to add tight end depth behind T.J. Hockenson, but now their top options consist of
Dalton Schultz, Zach Ertz, and Evan Engram.
Detroit will also keep a close eye on whether Njoku gets a long-term deal because Hockenson is entering the final year of his rookie deal (with a potential fifth-year option coming in 2023). Whatever Njoku gets, expect Hockenson to get more.
Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki
The tight end market thins out even further with Gesicki staying in Miami. A second-round pick in 2018, Gesicki could find a long-term deal with the Dolphins, and that may be a closer indication as to the deal Hockenson could land this offseason or next.
Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz (per Ian Rapoport)
Schultz becomes the third tight end receive the tag. A 2018 fourth-round pick, Schultz’s production has exploded in the past two season, combining for 1,423 yards and 12 touchdowns over the past two years. Hockenson, by comparison, has produced 1,306 yards and 10 touchdowns over that time—in five fewer games played. He’s another player to watch if the Cowboys can sign him to a long-term deal and set the tight end market.
It’s also worth noting that with this significant financial commitment to Schultz, it seems almost certain that Dallas will now part ways with star receiver Amari Cooper in a cap-saving move. He could be a target for the Lions.
Jaguars left tackle Cam Robinson
So... the Jaguars have the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, and many have been mocking a tackle to them there. With Robinson back for at least another year, expect a lot of those mocks to shift to someone like Aidan Hutchinson, leaving the Lions with a more interesting decision. When we last polled Lions fans, 69 percent wanted Detroit to draft Hutchinson.
That all being said, Robinson is currently just locked into a one-year deal at this point. There’s certainly still a possibility they draft an offensive tackle with the first overall pick, but those odds have certainly diminished after this move.
Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin
The Lions are expected to be major players at the wide receiver position in free agency, and with Godwin off the table, that eliminates one of Detroit’s best options. Combine that with the suspension of Calvin Ridley, the new contract for Chargers wide receiver MIke Williams, the tagging of Davante Adams, and suddenly this once fruitful free agency class looks a lot more barren.
Packers wide receiver Davante Adams
After locking up Rodgers, the Packers brought back his No. 1 receiver in Adams. Green Bay is still looking to lock up Adams for a long-term deal to ideally lower his cap hit for the 2022 season.
Chargers WR Mike Williams — Re-signed
UPDATE: The Chargers have re-signed Williams to a three-year, $60 million deal, avoiding the need to use the franchise tag. Williams set the wide receiver market at a hefty $20 million a year.
The Chargers “aren’t going to let Mike Williams go,” according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation. If both sides don’t agree on a long-term extension, the Chargers are prepared to franchise tag the WR.— Tyler Dragon (@TheTylerDragon) March 4, 2022
If Godwin and Williams are indeed off the market, that leaves the following as the top receiver options available in free agency: Bears’ Allen Robinson, Rams’ Odell Beckham Jr., Jaguars’ D.J. Chark, and Cardinals’ Christian Kirk.
Perhaps the best wide receiver in the game—Davante Adams of the Packers—is also set to become a free agent, but with the Aaron Rodgers saga still lingering, it’s unclear whether he’ll hit free agency or not.