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 East.
Top Candidate: Jordan Mills
Chance of Being Tagged: 20%
28-year old right tackle Jordan Mills spent all of 2018 in Buffalo, starting all 16 of their regular season games. He appeared in 1,011 snaps, which comes out to roughly 96 percent of the team’s total offensive snaps.
Mills played out the final season of his two-year contract last season, which was a deal that he signed back in March 2017 that would pay him a total of $3.8 million over the course of the following two seasons. In the end, Mills made an extra $100,000 following an incentive in 2018, but also lost north of $13,000 for his role in a brawl against the Miami Dolphins.
Although Mills spent a lot of time on the field in 2018 and clearly deserves to be a starter on whatever team he is on, it may not be the best investment for Buffalo to use their franchise tag this season; instead, they should definitely explore re-signing him to a new contract for two or three seasons.
Top Candidate: Ja’Wuan James
Chance of Being Tagged: 35%
Frank Gore, Cameron Wake, and Ja’Wuan James headline this year’s class of impending Miami Dolphin free agents. Of that trio, James stands out as the most likely to be tagged, although to be fair, it doesn’t seem like Miami will place the tag on anybody this season.
2018 marked the end of James’s rookie contract that he signed back in 2014 that would pay him more than $8.4 million over the span of four seasons, and a fifth-year option (that the team exercised) for the 2018 season worth more than $9.3 million.
James, a 2014 first-round pick out of Tennessee, started all 15 of the games he played in during the 2018 season after starting just eight games in 2017. (It’s worth noting that James started all 16 regular season games in both 2016 and his rookie year of 2014.) He appeared in 815 snaps last year, which comes out to roughly 89 percent of his team’s total offensive snaps.
With the current state of the Miami Dolphins, it doesn’t seem like they’ll place a tag on anybody. But you never know. The offensive lineman market is slim, which means that talented, available linemen are hard to come by, so perhaps Miami takes a chance on James, or furthermore, strikes a deal to keep him in Miami long-term.
New York Jets
Top Candidate: Robby Anderson
Chance of Being Tagged: 10%
New York’s best impending free agent is wide receiver Robby Anderson. However, he is a restricted free agent, so New York is allowed to match any offer that Anderson receives; any offer Anderson gets would likely be a bit below the franchise tag price, anyways, so even if New York wants him back, they won’t let it get to the point where they need to tag him.
But, we can still have fun and check out his recent stats.
Anderson, 26, appeared in 14 games last season, making nine starts. He managed to still play in 68 percent of New York’s offensive snaps but struggled to haul in passes that were thrown his way. Anderson reeled in just 50 passes on 98 targets, which means he caught roughly half of the passes thrown at him, which isn’t a great statistic for someone who is being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to catch footballs.
Anderson still recorded 752 yards on the season, finding the end zone six times while fumbling twice.
It seems like there is a decent chance New York brings back Anderson to help out sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold, but don’t expect it to be by means of a franchise tag.
New England Patriots
Top Candidate: Stephen Gostkowski
Chance of Being Tagged: 15%
New England has a few different candidates to be franchise tagged in linemen Trey Flowers and Trent Brown and kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
The final name of that trio seems to be the most likely to be tagged.
As ESPN’s Mike Reiss puts it, a franchise tag could be up to $5 million more expensive than the average annual value of a multi-year deal. But at the moment, New England isn’t even close to having a multi-year deal finalized with Gostkowski in the first place.
That’s where the franchise tag comes in. The tag could be a placeholder for a bigger contract in the future, as it has been with so many previously-tagged players. It gives New England one more year to negotiate with their aging-but-still-dominant kicker.
2018 marked the final year of Gostkowski most recent contract with the Patriots that paid him $17.2 million over four seasons in New England. Throughout the season, the 35-year old would go on to make 27 of his 32 field goal attempts and 49 of his 50 extra point attempts.
New England has spent $33 million on Gostkowski over the course of 12 seasons; he is clearly their franchise kicker, so why not keep him under contract for the rest of his career to make him a Patriot for life? It seems like it’ll be a franchise tag or an extension for the two sides, who have great respect for each other and are only divided, as of now, by the two contract figures that each side has proposed.