Will Franchise Tag Block Ravens From Trying to Sign Pass-Catching Free Agents?
Tagging season is right around the corner, and as always, plenty of speculation will abound in Baltimore … but with a twist.
As the Feb. 20 opening approaches, instead of focusing on the Ravens' application of a franchise or transition tag, there's going to be much more guesswork around who other NFL teams could tag. That's because it's highly unlikely General Manager Ozzie Newsome will use the expensive maneuver to prevent one of his 12 pending free agents from hitting the market.
The only Raven that could be considered is center Ryan Jensen because he's the only young and healthy starter scheduled for unrestricted free agency (Brent Urban was injured for most of the year and James Hurst would likely return to his backup role if re-signed). But even Jensen's a stretch because, for tag purposes, all offensive linemen are lumped together. That means the top-five salaries will include franchise left tackles, who are paid way more than centers. As such, Jensen would cost around an estimated $14 million, which is too expensive for his position. Plus, the Ravens don't have that much cap space.
That leaves Ravens fans looking at other NFL teams to see which high-profile players could be tagged, thus blocking Baltimore from getting a chance at signing them, assuming Newsome is even interested or has the cap space.
Several players around the league are serious candidates for tagging, including Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, Detroit Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah and Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
But for our purposes, we'll only look at offensive skill position players because that's where the Ravens hope to make a splash this offseason. The good news is, some of the top pass catchers scheduled to hit the market have a good chance of actually making it there …
Rams WR Sammy WatkinsFranchise tag projection: $16.2 million, Transition tag projection: $14.2 million
Spotrac.com's projected market value: $5.9 million annually
CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora: "Watkins, to me, is an $8-$10 million receiver, maybe, but not close to this [franchise tag] number. His foot has to remain a significant concern, as it has long hampered him. He is someone a Bills team sorely lacking skill guys eagerly traded away. Head coach Sean McVay's potent scheme can get guys open, and with a massive Aaron Donald extension a need, and the Rams trying to find a way to keep corner Trumaine Johnson after tagging him twice (yeah, that happened), well, this is a luxury they best not try to afford."
ESPN's Alden Gonzalez: "[T]agging him seems to make a lot of sense for the Rams. … Watkins put up pedestrian numbers this past season, but he still has the ability of a No. 1 receiver. And the market at his position doesn't seem all that strong this offseason."
Seahawks TE Jimmy GrahamFranchise tag projection: $15.5 million
Spotrac.com's projected market value: $6.7 million annually
Field Gulls' John P. Gilbert: "At this point, franchising Graham appears to be a non-starter from a salary cap perspective. … That a $15.48M cap hit for Graham on a franchise tag would give him the second highest cap hit on the team behind only Russell Wilson, and it's hard to argue that he is the second most important player on the roster. Thus, while Graham led the NFL in receiving touchdowns by a tight end in 2017, if he repeats that feat in 2018, it's likely to be for a different franchise, or at least not under the franchise tag."
Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry
*Franchise tag projection: $16.2 million, Transition tag projection: $14.2 million
Spotrac.com's projected market value: $13.8 million annually
La Canfora: "Landy is a very productive slot receiver who excels at yards after the catch. That he can make something out of nothing is a valuable weapon, for sure, but no way in hell am I placing a tag on him worth $16 million-plus. For a true outside, No. 1 receiver with ideal height and speed? Sure. But not here. Look at how many dynamic, uber-productive slot guys the Patriots have run their offense through for years (Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola) without ever having to pay anything close to that kind of money. This is too steep for my blood."
Miami Herald's Armando Salguero: "And why, you ask, would a team that will have to get rid of a lot of heavy baggage this offseason to create cap space want to take on a $14 million cap burden to start free agency? Especially when that offers no certainty? I don't know. I don't think the Dolphins want that. … The Dolphins already know Landry wants to be paid like Davante Adams, who is averaging $14.5 million per year from the Green Bay Packers. The Dolphins don't want to pay that, folks. So why would they simply tag Landry at precisely the number he's expecting to reach? If the Dolphins use the transition tag on Landry, and he leaves, he does not count at all in the compensatory draft pick formula. So the Dolphins would get zilch for Landry leaving."
Steelers RB Le'Veon BellFranchise tag projection: $12.0 million, Transition tag projection: $9.8 million
Spotrac.com's projected market value: $10.7 million
Note: I'm not bringing this up because I think the Ravens would sign him if he were to hit the market. This is more of an AFC North update on a player that has been a pain to defend for years. There's a good chance he'll continue to be an irritant for at least one more year (he stressed at the Pro Bowl last month that he expects to remain in Pittsburgh), but maybe not much longer if Bell and the Steelers can't come to terms.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Paul Zeise: "[O]f the three options available, a long-term deal with a lot of guaranteed money makes the least amount of sense. Bell is going to be 27 next February, and most studies suggest that's when running backs peak and begin to decline. The Steelers should use the non-exclusive franchise tag on Bell. … Bell has five seasons and more than 1,500 touches under his belt. He also has been suspended twice under the league's substance abuse policy. It would be a bad move financially for the Steelers to lock him up for the long term, especially when their offense is built around the passing game. … Bell can chirp all he wants about sitting out, but he won't leave that much money on the table."
ESPN Wonders if Ozzie Newsome Will Redeem His Drafting 'Blemish' in Final Year as GM
There's no questioning Newsome's success as Baltimore's general manager.
To prove his superiority as GM, you could start and stop with his drafting of back-to-back Hall of Famers – Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden – with the first two picks in Ravens history. But nah, why not also mention the fact he's also constructed two Super Bowl rosters, drafted two Super Bowl MVPs (Lewis and Joe Flacco), three NFL Defensive Players of the Year (Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs), an Offensive Player of the Year (Jamal Lewis) and 11 Pro Bowlers. Oh, and perhaps his third Hall of Famer will be inducted next year with Reed.
All that in 22 years.
The Ravens announced this will be Newsome's last year as their general manager, and many are wondering what the final draft class of his legendary resume will look like.
"Will Newsome remove that blemish from his record in his final draft as the Ravens general manager?" asked ESPN.
"His most glaring weakness has been wide receiver. Newsome has never drafted a Pro Bowl receiver, and three of his biggest misses in the first round have been Travis Taylor, Mark Clayton and Breshad Perriman."
Newsome hasn't attempted to pick a high-end pass catcher very often over the last 10 years, only drafting Perriman (2015, Round 1) and Torrey Smith (2011, Round 2) in the first three rounds. But that could change this year.
Baltimore's biggest offseason priority is at receiver, so there's little doubt that Newsome will take a stab at one, if not two, in April's draft. While the 2018 class doesn't feature many top-end receivers in the first round, the group is deep.
Newsome could leave his mark with an aggressive trade up to get the consensus No. 1 receiver in Alabama's Calvin Ridley, or he could be patient and try to draft a gem in the second or third rounds, where the strength of the receiver class lies.
"If Newsome can land that playmaking wide receiver in his final draft before he steps down after the 2018 season, it would wrap up a perfect draft record," wrote ESPN.
What Should Ravens Do With Brandon Carr?
As Baltimore looks to open up salary-cap space for at least one or two splashes in free agency, one of the most-debated topics is what to do with veteran cornerback Brandon Carr.
The Ravens signed Carr last offseason to a four-year deal reportedly worth $23.5 million. One of the reasons he was such an attractive signing was his durability. Carr has never missed a game in his 10-year career, playing in 160 straight. That's the second-longest streak among all active cornerbacks behind Pittsburgh's William Gay.
With corner being a position that regularly finds itself thin by the end of the year because of injuries, Carr's availability is certainly attractive. That's especially true with Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young coming off injuries last season, and Smith may not be ready to go early in the season.
"I've debated what should be done with Brandon Carr, who's owed a bonus next month and brings $4 million in savings if he's cut," wrote WNST's Luke Jones. "Baltimore sure could use him if Jimmy Smith isn't ready for Week 1, but Carr is a backup with a $7 million number if he is."
- "Philadelphia winning the Super Bowl despite losing its franchise quarterback, Pro Bowl left tackle, starting middle linebacker, and a productive third-down running back sure doesn't help the perception of the Ravens not being able to overcome injuries to sneak into the playoffs with one of the league's easiest schedules," wrote Jones. [WNST]