Ranking AFC North Teams’ Chances to Use a Franchise Tagby Andersen Pickard February 19, 2019 0 comments
The period for teams to place a franchise tag on any impending free agent opens today.
This eight-part series will go division by division looking at the possibility that a team will place a franchise tag on their most worthy player.
Without further ado, here goes the AFC North.
Top Candidate: C.J. Mosley
Chance of Being Tagged: 60%
27-year old linebacker C.J. Mosley is coming off of his first contract in the NFL: a four-year deal worth nearly $8.8 million with a club option for the 2018 season worth $8.7 million. Obviously, Baltimore exercised this option to keep him around for a fifth year, but they should look to bring him back long-term before placing their franchise tag on him.
Mosley started 15 games last season, appearing in more than 90 percent of defensive plays and snaps, making 105 tackles and half of a sack while also intercepting a pass.
Expect Mosley to return to the Ravens for 2019. Whether he plays under the franchise tag or under a long-term contract is less clear.
Top Candidate: Tyler Eifert
Chance of Being Tagged: 10%
After finally being cleared to play following injuries and setbacks, Tyler Eifert looked promising with the Bengals just months before he would reach free agency. However, he only racked up four games (two starts) before suffering a gruesome leg injury that destroyed any hopes of him playing out his contract year.
Even when active, Eifert appeared in less than half of the Bengals’ offensive snaps, but did a good job when being thrown to: he hauled in 15 of the 19 passes thrown his way, amassing nearly 180 receiving yards while finding the end zone once.
Normally, a previously-proven player who goes down with an injury during their contract season would be a prime player to sign a one-year prove it deal, or, even better, be franchise tagged. But it seems like the price would be just a bit too steep for Eifert, who has battled injuries for two straight years.
Top Candidate: Rashard Higgins
Chance of Being Tagged: 5%
Higgins was thrust into action on multiple occasions in 2018, whether it was injuries or simply trying to determine who was worthy of playing time. Long story short, Higgins was worthy of some playing time, and that is exactly what he received. He appeared in 13 games and was even fortunate enough to make one start.
He appeared in more than half of Cleveland’s offensive snaps, hauling in 39 passes on 54 targets for a total of 572 yards. Higgins found the end zone four times as a receiver but also fumbled the football twice last season.
It would not surprise anyone to see Higgins to return to Cleveland next season, but it likely won’t be under the franchise tag, which would be a bit too pricey to place on Higgins. Rather, he could head back to Ohio on a multi-year contract, or could simply test the market with other teams across the league in free agency.
Top Candidate: Le’Veon Bell
Chance of Being Tagged: 15%
After being hit with the franchise tag for two straight seasons, do not expect Le’Veon Bell to be tagged for the third year. Obviously, his season-long holdout showed the team not only how he does not want to play on a one-year deal with no security, but also a bit of disrespect towards the Steelers and the city of Pittsburgh.
Even without the holdout madness, another franchise tag would likely pay Bell more than $20 million, which the Steelers obviously wouldn’t want to pay to their disgruntled backfield force, especially considering the breakout season that young running back James Conner had.
Instead of a franchise tag, the transition tag is more plausible, especially if the Steelers can legally prove that it should be worth $9.5 million dollars rather than $14.5 million thanks to Bell’s year-long absence.
But even if tagged, Bell would have to sign the tag, something he has not done since the spring of 2017.
As ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler puts it, “Bell can’t be traded unless he signs the tag or the Steelers utilize an offer sheet for a convoluted sign-and-trade plan, which is risky if other teams aren’t interested in the offer sheet’s numbers. Plus, the NFLPA would argue such a move violates the spirit of the tag and the collective bargaining agreement.”
With an already-solid backfield added to the drama that would come with keeping the running back on a one-year deal, it seems like the Steelers will quit trying to keep Bell in Pittsburgh and cut all ties with him, letting him hit free agency and sign the multi-year contract that he has been seeking for a while now.