2024 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates: Tee Higgins, Antoine Winfield Jr., and Michael Pittman Jr. Could Be Tagged

The NFL franchise tag window opens on Feb. 20. Which players will receive the tag in 2024? Let's run through the top options on the market.

The NFL franchise tag window will open on Tuesday, Feb. 20, and run through March 5, giving teams two weeks to decide which players they can’t afford to lose on the open market.

Most players hit with the franchise tender will be given the non-exclusive tag, which allows them to negotiate with other clubs around the league. However, if a rival team signs a player on a franchise tag, they’re forced to give two first-round draft picks to the player’s original club.

Let’s run through PFN’s Top 100 NFL Free Agents and determine who might be a candidate for the franchise tag in 2024.

One note: Kirk Cousins’ contract structure with the Minnesota Vikings will prevent him from being tagged this offseason. The veteran quarterback, the No. 1 free agent in PFN’s rankings, will reach unrestricted free agency.

2024 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates | Locks

Josh Allen, EDGE, Jacksonville Jaguars | Cost: $20.205 million

Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke already let his plans slip last month when he said, “Josh Allen will be a Jaguar” in 2024.

Allen, a first-round pick in the 2019 draft, set a career-high with 17.5 sacks last season, while his 90 pressures ranked first among all edge defenders and first among free agent defensive ends. He’ll team up with 2022 No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker for at least one more year.

Brian Burns, EDGE, Carolina Panthers | Cost: $20.205 million

The Panthers have reportedly rejected multiple trade offers for Brian Burns over the past several seasons, including a package from the Los Angeles Rams that included two first-round picks. Having turned down that sort of proposal, Carolina can hardly let Burns leave while receiving nothing in return.

Still only 25 years old, Burns has been consistent since entering the NFL in 2019, posting at least 7.5 sacks and 15 QB hits in each season. The Panthers are trying to revamp their organizational ethos, so they can’t let their best player walk.

Tee Higgins, WR, Cincinnati Bengals | Cost: $20.672 million

Although injuries limited Tee Higgins to only 12 games and 656 receiving yards this past season, he’s already proven he could be a No. 1 wideout on any number of teams that don’t already have a Ja’Marr Chase-level talent.

MORE: Which Bengals Made PFN’s Top 100 Free Agents?

The Bengals have nearly $60 million in cap space. Joe Burrow and Chase still have reasonable cap charges, so the club can afford to take on Higgins at one year and $21.665 million. Higgins crossed 1,000 yards in 2021 and 2022, and his return will give Cincinnati one of the best sets of weapons in the league.

Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Cost: $16.224 million

Antoine Winfield Jr. was arguably the best safety in the NFL in 2023. He played just about everywhere, spending time at free safety, in the box, and in the slot while leading the league with six forced fumbles.

The former second-round pick earned first-team All-Pro honors after picking up six sacks and three interceptions last season. The Buccaneers should consider a long-term deal for Winfield, but the franchise tag will keep him in place for now.

Jaylon Johnson, CB, Chicago Bears | Cost: $18.762 million

Bears general manager Ryan Poles said he wanted a late first-round or early second-round pick in return in order to trade Jaylon Johnson at last year’s deadline. Johnson will almost surely receive the franchise tag this offseason but could potentially be dealt if Chicago’s asking price is met.

Johnson allowed just a 33.3 passer rating as the nearest defender in coverage in 2023, the best mark in the NFL per PFF. He also set career bests in completion rate (55.2%), yards per target (4.8), and yards per completion (8.7) while serving as the top cornerback for a Bears defense that rapidly improved over the second half of the season.

Michael Pittman Jr., WR, Indianapolis Colts | Cost: $20.672 million

While the Colts have other intriguing free agents like CB Kenny Moore II, S Julian Blackmon, and DT Grover Stewart, Michael Pittman Jr. has to be Indy’s offseason priority.

Indianapolis has nearly $60 million in cap space and no proven receivers behind Pittman, so there’s no excuse for GM Chris Ballard not to work out an extension. Pittman has continued to produce, posting 3,500+ yards and 15 touchdowns despite working with subpar quarterback play.

2024 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates | Likely To Be Tagged

Christian Wilkins, DT, Miami Dolphins | Cost: $20.943 million

Christian Wilkins played more snaps than any interior defender in 2023 and put up the best season of his career, blowing his previous statistical bests out of the water by posting nine sacks and 23 QB hits.

MORE: Which Dolphins Made PFN’s Top 100 Free Agents?

But the Dolphins’ salary cap is a problem. They’re projected to be $5+ million over the cap in 2024. Can they afford a nearly $20 million price tag for Wilkins? PFN’s Adam Beasley recently suggested that Miami could tag-and-trade Wilkins.

Justin Madubuike, DT, Baltimore Ravens | Cost: $20.943 million

Baltimore has never been afraid to deploy the franchise tag to retain its key players. The Ravens tagged QB Lamar Jackson in 2023 before working out a long-term extension, while defenders like Matthew Judon, Haloti Ngata, and Terrell Suggs were franchise-tendered by Baltimore in years past.

Justin Madubuike is likely next on the list after managing 13 sacks, 12 TFLs, and 33 QB hits. Arguably the NFL’s most significant 2023 breakout, at least on the defensive side of the ball, Madubuike will likely clear $20 million annually if he reaches the open market.

L’Jarius Sneed, CB, Kansas City Chiefs | Cost: $18.762 million

While L’Jarius Sneed has always been a productive player, he became a true lockdown cornerback last season. The 27-year-old didn’t allow a touchdown until the Buffalo Bills’ Khalil Shakir scored on him in the Divisional Round.

A scheme-versatile defender who can play on the perimeter or in the slot, Sneed is an incredibly important player in Steve Spagnuolo’s defense. However, the Chiefs have one other franchise-tag candidate on defense, so Sneed isn’t a lock to be franchise-tagged.

2024 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates | Possible But Unlikely

Chris Jones, DT, Kansas City Chiefs | Cost: $32.17 million

After staging a mini-holdout and missing Week 1, Chris Jones returned and was absolutely dominant for a Super Bowl-winning Chiefs defense. Jones, who posted 26 sacks over the past two seasons, tied for the league lead in pass-rush win rate among defensive tackles (20%) while being double-teamed at a higher clip than any other DT.

The only problem? NFL rules stipulate that Jones will be entitled to a 20% raise if he’s tagged, making his 2024 salary cap charge $32.17 million. Aaron Donald is the only DT with a larger projected cap hit next season.

Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Cost: $28.438 million

Like Jones, Mike Evans would also be entitled to a raise on the franchise tag. Evans had a $26.808 million cap figure in 2023, so a 20% increase would lead to a $28.438 million franchise tender.

While Evans led the NFL with 13 receiving TDs, a nearly $30 million cap charge is probably untenable for a 30-year-old wideout. It isn’t easy to imagine Evans leaving Tampa Bay after 10 seasons, but a short-term pact could convince him to depart for a surefire contender.

Xavier McKinney, S, New York Giants | Cost: $16.224 million

Xavier McKinney posted arguably his best pro campaign in 2023 while playing over 1,000 defensive snaps. Any interpersonal issues McKinney may have had with former defensive coordinator Wink Martindale no longer matter, and Martindale has been replaced by new DC Shane Bowen.

Still, McKinney has missed ample time in two of his four NFL seasons. Additionally, a $17.22 million salary would make the former second-round pick the third-highest-paid safety in the league. The Giants can probably bring him back at a cheaper price.

Bryce Huff, EDGE, New York Jets | Cost: $$20.205 million

Bryce Huff isn’t an every-down player — he’s never played 500 defensive snaps in a single season. That lack of availability might make it challenging for the Jets to commit $20+ million to him despite how productive he’s been in a limited sample.

Still, the former undrafted free agent put up 10 sacks in 2023. Huff finished second only to Micah Parsons in pass-rush win rate last season and ranked first in 2022. Huff is an outstanding player, but it remains unclear how Gang Green will value him.

Kamren Curl, S, Washington Commanders | Cost: $16.224 million

Like McKinney, Kamren Curl has been a productive force in his NFC East defensive backfield. Washington has the most cap space ($73.65 million) in the NFL, so it can easily afford to re-sign or franchise its veteran safety.

But new head coach Dan Quinn might want to revamp the Commanders’ defense, which allowed 63 more points than any team in the league. While that dismal effort was hardly Curl’s fault, Quinn may intend to start fresh with new personnel.

Jonathan Greenard, EDGE, Houston Texans | Cost: $20.205 million

After missing 12 games with injuries from 2021 to 2022, Jonathan Greenard put up a career-high 12.5 sacks and 22 QB hits for the AFC South-champion Texans. A 2020 third-round pick, Greenard ranked sixth in pass-rush win rate (22%), finishing in the same range as elite defensive ends like Haason Reddick and Huff.

MORE: 2024 NFL Free Agents by Position

Houston has plenty of cap space to retain Greenard and keep him paired with reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Will Anderson Jr. The Texans blitzed at one of the lowest rates in the NFL (21%) in 2023, so they need two pass rushers capable of winning independently.

Kyle Dugger, S, New England Patriots | Cost: $16.224 million

Kyle Dugger still made plays from the box in 2023, but his work as a coverage defender took a nosedive. He’s also 28 years old, and a crowded free agent safety class could drive down his price. The franchise tag probably won’t make sense if the Patriots think they can get Dugger back for a lower price than $17.22 million on a multi-year pact.

Miss football? The 2024 NFL Draft is almost here, boss. Pro Football Network has you covered with everything from team draft needs to the Top 100 prospects available. Plus, fire up PFN’s Mock Draft Simulator to put yourself in the general manager’s seat and make all the calls!

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