Now that Super Bowl 50 is in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to dive headlong into the offseason. One of the most interesting dates on this year’s NFL league calendar will be February 22, the first day teams can use the franchise tag. With such a loaded free agent class, this year could see a ton of tags handed out to prevent players from hitting the open market.
Here’s a look at five impact players who are almost certain to be tagged by their current teams.
Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos
Miller is undoubtedly Denver’s most valuable player and he knows it. The newly-minted Super Bowl 50 MVP is going to command an immense salary this offseason and the Broncos can’t risk letting him go. While the sides will likely reach some kind of long-term deal eventually, Denver will also almost surely use its franchise tag on Miller to ensure he doesn’t get lured away.
Miller is a four-time All-Pro and is still just 26 years old. In five seasons he has racked up 60 sacks (11 in 2015), 16 forced fumbles, and has played in 72 of a possible 80 regular season games. He is the heart and soul of Denver’s imposing defense.
While salary cap numbers and tag prices are not yet set, the tag for a linebacker will likely be in the $14 million range for one season. Miller would command far more than that on the open market, so it’s a no-brainer for the Broncos to tag him.
Given that the Kansas City Chiefs gave Justin Houston a six-year, $101 million contract ($52.5 million guaranteed) last offseason, you can see where Miller’s contract is headed. The Bills handed tackle Marcell Dareus a record $60 million in guaranteed money for a defensive player before the 2015 season, so we have to assume Miller will surpass those numbers.
Josh Norman, CB, Carolina Panthers
Norman and the Panthers are almost assuredly headed to some really difficult contract negotiations, which means the team is almost certain to place the franchise tag on him. Like Miller, Norman is a huge part of what Carolina does defensively and other than Luke Kuechly, no one is more important to the Panthers on defense.
Norman is 28 years old and earned First-team All-Pro status in 2015. He made the most of his contract year, developing himself into one of the top cover corners in football. He has turned into the kind of guy who shuts down an entire side of a field. He held opposing quarterbacks to a 54.0 passer rating when targeted, which was tops among cornerbacks in 2015. Given the value placed on defensive backs in the NFL’s pass-happy world, he’s in line for a monster raise.
The tag for a cornerback should be in the $14 million range for 2016, but given that Byron Maxwell got six years and $63 million ($25 million guaranteed) from the Eagles last summer, that tag could be a bargain for the Panthers.
I expect Norman and Carolina to work out a long-term pact, but it could take a while, which means the tag will almost surely be applied.
Eric Berry, S, Kansas City
Was there a better story during the 2015 season than Eric Berry beating cancer and earning First-team All-Pro status? The 2015 AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year is not only a great guy with an amazing story, he’s also one of the best safeties in football. While the Chiefs and Berry are currently discussing a long-term deal, like the other guys on this list, those talks could drag on for a while.
Berry is definitely going to need a raise from the six-year, $50 million contract he signed as a rookie in 2010, and he could be looking at a deal in the same range as Norman. That Byron Maxwell deal really set a bad precedent for teams as far as defensive backs go. The tag value for a safety will likely be in the $10.5 million range, which will be a bargain given what Berry brings both on and off the field.
While the tag will almost certainly be applied, I don’t think Berry will even consider going elsewhere. The Chiefs were his biggest supporters as he battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma and the 27-year-old has been effusive in his praise for the franchise. Expect the tag, but expect Berry to be in Kansas City for a long time.
Cordy Glenn, LT, Buffalo Bills
Glenn isn’t a sexy name, but he has developed into a fantastic left tackle for the Bills. The team’s offensive line has gone from atrocious to very good in the past few years and Glenn’s rapid development has been a big part of that.
The 26-year-old is probably the top offensive lineman available this offseason and given that he plays a premium position, the Bills can’t risk letting him hit the open market. While Buffalo will face some tough roster decisions thanks to being tight against the salary cap, Glenn needs to return.
The Georgia product is a 6-foot-6, 345-pound monster with great feet (we know how Bills coach Rex Ryan feels about those) and power. The tag for an offensive lineman will likely come in the $13.5 million range, and that might wind up being what he gets paid in 2016. The Bills will have to do some serious restructuring to find room to hand Glenn a long-term deal, so he may have to play under the tag. Regardless of that, he should be tagged soon.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
Jeffery is the best free agent receiver available and one of the most important players on Chicago’s roster. Without him, Jay Cutler’s numbers would look horrendous and given that 2015 first-round draft pick Kevin White didn’t play as a rookie, the Bears don’t have anywhere to turn if they lose the 25-year-old Jeffery.
In four seasons, Jeffery has caught a whopping 252 passes for 3,728 yards and 24 touchdowns. At 6-3 and 216 pounds, he’s big, tough and reliable, three traits that are hard to find in a wideout these days.
Jeffery battled through injuries in 2015, but the Bears desperately want him back. While the two sides will work on a long-term extension, the Chicago will almost certainly tag its young wideout to keep him off the market. The franchise tag for a wide receiver is likely to be in the $14.5 million range, which is incredibly high. That said, the prospect of Chicago’s offense without Jeffery on the outside will be too ugly to stomach for the Bears front office.