Nine players were given franchise player designations this year despite the salary cap dropping by $15.7 million to $182.5 million. Technically, it's 10 players. Quarterback Dak Prescott was named a franchise player as a formality although he had already agreed upon a four-year, $160 million contract to remain with the Cowboys.
Two other franchise players, Broncos safety Justin Simmons and Giants defensive lineman Leonard Williams quickly agreed to long-term deals after the 2021 league year started on March 17. Simmons became the NFL's highest-paid safety on a four-year, $61 million deal with $35 million in guarantees where $32.1 million was fully guaranteed at signing. Williams signed a three-year, $63 million contract averaging $21 million per year. His $45 million fully guaranteed is the most ever in a Giants contract.
The clock is ticking with the remaining seven players who were given franchise tags. The deadline for franchise players to sign long-term deals is July 15 at 4 p.m. ET. After the deadline passes, players with franchise tags are prohibited from signing multiyear contracts until the end of the regular season on Jan. 9, 2022.
Only two of the 14 players franchised in 2020 -- Titans running back Derrick Henry and Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones -- signed long-term deals as the July 15 deadline was approaching. It may make sense for the seven to exercise similar patience as last year's franchise players because of the expected growth in the 2022 salary cap. The NFL and NFLPA recently agreed to a salary cap ceiling of $208.2 million for 2022. Reaching the ceiling in 2022 would be a 14.1% increase over the current $182.5 million salary cap.
Here's a look at the situations of the seven franchise players who haven't signed long term.
Allen Robinson, WR, Bears
Robinson wasn't pleased when the Bears made him a franchise player for $17.98 million. Nonetheless, Robinson smartly signed his franchise tender when the Bears started pursuing wide receiver Kenny Golladay in free agency since that made his money fully guaranteed. He appears to be comfortable playing the season on his tag if necessary.
Robinson has thrived in Chicago despite shaky quarterback play. He has the NFL's fourth-most receptions (200) and receiving yards (2,397) over the last two seasons.
Robinson surely took note of the four-year contract extension wide receiver Keenan Allen received from the Chargers early last September, averaging $20.25 million per year with $50 million of guarantees, before his own talks with the Bears stopped. Shortly thereafter, DeAndre Hopkins replaced Julio Jones, whose three-year extension from the Falcons in 2019 averaged $22 million per year, as the league's highest-paid wide receiver on his two-year, $54.5 million extension ($27.25 million per year) with the Cardinals.
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Chris Godwin, WR, Buccaneers
The Buccaneers placed a franchise tag on Godwin for $15.983 million instead of edge rusher Shaquil Barrett. The designation may have been a blessing in disguise for Godwin given the soft market for wide receivers in free agency. Godwin was also slowed by assorted injuries in 2020 (concussion, hamstring, broken finger) and suffered uncharacteristic dropped passes in the playoffs.
Golladay's market was slow to develop before the Giants signed him to a four-year, $72 million contract worth a maximum of $76 million with incentives. The deal has $40 million of guarantees where $28 million is fully guaranteed. Golladay easily signed the most lucrative wide receiver contract in free agency. His $18 million-per-year deal falls short of the wide receiver benchmark in 2020 free agency. Amari Cooper signed a five-year, $100 million contract with $60 million in guarantees, of which $40 million was fully guaranteed at signing, to remain with the Cowboys last year.
Brandon Scherff, OG, Washington Football Team
Scherff was named as a franchise player for a second straight year at $18.036 million, which is 120% over his $15.03 million designation in 2020. He is coming off a 2020 Pro Bowl season, his fourth selection over a five-year span.
It's probably going to take a compelling offer to ensure that Scherff remains in Washington beyond this season. A third franchise tag in 2022 is out of the question because it would be either $25,971,840 at the collective bargaining agreement-mandated 44% raise over his $18.036 million designation or the 2022 nonexclusive quarterback number, whichever is greater.
This means Scherff has tremendous negotiating leverage with Washington. Any long-term deal for Scherff should easily eclipse the five-year, $80 million contract averaging $16 million per year with $46.89 million in guarantees Joe Thuney received from the Chiefs in free agency this year, which reset the offensive guard market.
The Saints weren't expected to franchise anybody because of the NFL's worst 2021 salary cap situation by far when the offseason began. Despite this, the Saints were able to accommodate Williams' $10.612 million franchise tag. Williams' best move may be letting July 15 pass without a long-term deal unless the expected movement in the safety market takes place beforehand. Chiefs three-time All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu, who is in a contract year, recently expressed optimism about an extension.
A new deal should make him the NFL's highest-paid safety ahead of Simmons, whose contract averages $15.25 million per year. Seahawks safety Jamal Adams, who is also in a contract year, doesn't want his pay to be constrained by the safety position in a new deal. Williams probably wouldn't be given a second franchise tag in 2022 if cornerback Marshon Lattimore plays this season under his fifth-year option, or either Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston prove to be the long-term replacement for the recently retired Drew Brees at quarterback and haven't signed an extension by next March's designation deadline.
Taylor Moton, OT, Panthers
The Panthers reportedly would like to sign Moton to a long-term deal rather than him playing on his $13.754 million franchise tag. The Saints didn't do the Panthers any favors in that regard with a major reset of the right tackle market on Ryan Ramczyk's new deal. Ramczyk just signed a five-year, $96 million contract, averaging $19.2 million per year with $60,214,824 of guarantees, where $43,014,824 was fully guaranteed at signing. The deal is worth as much as $102 million through salary escalators and incentives.
The four-year extension -- averaging $18 million per year and containing $54.595 million of guarantees -- the Eagles gave Lane Johnson during the 2019 season can no longer be considered an anomaly in the right tackle market. There's a big drop off after Johnson. Jack Conklin is the NFL's third highest-paid right tackle. The three-year, $42 million contract ($14 million per year) he signed with the Browns in 2020 free agency has $30 million fully guaranteed.
Marcus Maye, S, Jets
The Jets have developed a poor track record in keeping talented homegrown players. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams and safety Jamal Adams were traded in 2019 and 2020, respectively. A surefire way for Maye to play under his $10.612 million franchise tag is for the Jets to think the three-year, $33.75 million contract with $24 million of guarantees John Johnson received from the Browns in free agency is relevant to his situation. Eight safeties have signed long-term deals for more than $11.25 million per year since the start of free agency in 2019.
Cam Robinson, OT, Jaguars
Robinson was the most surprising franchise tag recipient (for $13.754 million). He hasn't been an upper echelon left tackle in his four NFL seasons. Nonetheless, protecting 2021 first overall pick Trevor Lawrence's blindside is of the utmost importance in Jacksonville. The latest data point for ascending young left tackles is the three-year, $54.15 million extension -- averaging $18.05 million per year with $42.5 million of guarantees -- Kolton Miller received from the Raiders in April. Paying Robinson like Miller shouldn't be a serious consideration at this point. The Jaguars hedged their bets at left tackle by drafting Walker Little in the second round.