With only eight days until the official commencement, the franchise tag window has closed. What difference has the franchise tag made concerning the NFL’s top unrestricted free agents? Daron Payne, Lamar Jackson, Tony Pollard, Josh Jacobs, and Evan Engram were all handed the franchise tag before the deadline. Who will hit the open market on March 15?
Who Are the Best Free Agents Left To Sign After the Franchise Tag Deadline?
Derek Carr was a street-free agent, so he got to sign before the start of the league year. The Seattle Seahawks extended Geno Smith on a three-year, $105 million deal.
Jessie Bates III, Safety
There’s a funny internet narrative claiming that Jessie Bates’ play has fallen off a cliff since his 2020 second-team All-Pro status. While there were ups and downs during his 2021 season via some communicative issues in the secondary, he was a massive reason why the Bengals’ secondary survived Chidobe Awuzie’s season-ending injury.
The free safety is one of the best in the game and will be paid accordingly. He possesses outstanding range as a single-high safety and the mental prowess to be a weapon in split-safety, match-based zone coverages.
Javon Hargrave, Defensive Tackle
Although Javon Hargrave has crested the apex of the 30-year-old mountain, he remains at the top of his game as a pass rusher. While nobody would claim he’s an upgrade as a run defender, pressuring and sacking the quarterback is the more important feature of defensive line play. It is a passing league, after all.
Jamel Dean, Cornerback
While he might be seen as a bit of a scheme-specific player, Jamel Dean proved in 2022 that he can do a little bit of everything in coverage. He possesses some of the best natural athleticism we’ve ever seen at the position, producing a 97th-percentile vertical jump and a 99th-percentile 40-yard dash.
Although his route recognition and ability to play from depth in Cover 3 are elite, he can realistically fit in any coverage scheme under the sun.
Tremaine Edmunds, Linebacker
I was not ready for a 24-year-old athletic phenom who is just beginning to scratch the surface of his true potential to hit the open market. And while there is still time to bridge the contractual gap, it’s interesting to see the Bills and Brandon Beane not at least secure their 2023 future with the young linebacker.
Edmunds has steadily improved as both a run defender and coverage player. Although the start of his career was a bit of a disappointment, we should have known a 19-year-old could potentially struggle at a position that demands so much mental sharpness and physical endurance.
C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Safety
In a bit of a surprise twist, the Philadelphia Eagles chose not to use the franchise tag on C.J. Gardner-Johnson after it had initially been reported that they would. The Eagles safety, who primarily played as a slot cornerback in New Orleans, took the ball away six times in just 12 regular-season games, which gave him the co-lead for the NFL season.
He played safety at Florida, and he played in Philadelphia as if he’d never taken a day off from playing on the back end. Although the Eagles stand to potentially lose a few key defenders, Gardner-Johnson’s potential loss might sting the most.
Orlando Brown Jr., Offensive Tackle
The Kansas City Chiefs decided not to tag Orlando Brown Jr. for the second consecutive season, which makes it all the more likely the massive left tackle hits the open market. We’ve seen Kansas City shift its focus a bit toward uber-athletic offensive linemen, which may make them feel it’s best to move on from Brown, who was a historically poor tester at the NFL Combine.
However, there is no questioning his ability as a blindside blocker, poor Combine, be darned. But we’ve seen the Chiefs trade and walk away from good players in the past, and having Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid seem to remain the great equalizer.
Lavonte David, Linebacker
Lavonte David is a better linebacker today than Edmunds, but the 33-year-old likely only has a few more years left in him. The All-Pro linebacker recently told Pewter Report, “Getting to play in the same building my whole career like guys like Ronde Barber and Derrick Brooks, that’d be amazing.”
However, any team that is currently in serious playoff contention should consider swooning the linebacker. He is still an outstanding athlete, and his hairpin mental trigger consistently puts him in the right place at the right time against the run and in coverage.
Isaac Seumalo, Offensive Guard
In an underwhelming interior offensive line class in both free agency and the NFL draft, Isaac Seumalo might be able to cash in because of a lack of supply relative to the demand. It will be interesting to see how he fares without being sandwiched by two Hall of Fame players. However, the Eagles guard can play on both sides of the line and demonstrates the quiet, hard-working attitude many covet from interior linemen.
Mike McGlinchey, Offensive Tackle
It will be fascinating to see if any teams consider bringing Mike McGlinchey in to play on the left side, given that’s where he played at Notre Dame. The athletic blocker has faced his fair share of criticism at the NFL level, but he’s a far better blocker than many give him credit for, particularly in the run game. The only thing keeping him from taking his game to the next level is that he can struggle with players who possess elite play strength as pass rushers.
James Bradberry, Cornerback
It should be no surprise that the Eagles defense was outstanding in 2022, considering they have three players gracing the top of this list. Few cornerbacks were better than James Bradberry in 2022, who nobody would give the Giants a pick for last offseason. The 29-year-old still has plenty of game left in the tank. Bradberry ranked first in EPA and second in EPA per target last season.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Quarterback
If the Jets can’t figure out a way to trade for Aaron Rodgers, they could definitely do worse than Jimmy Garoppolo. The suave QB isn’t the best passer in the league. He will not create outside of structure and sometimes loses his mind and linebackers over the middle. But in a Shanahan-inspired West Coast offense, he’s practically automatic from a process perspective.
David Long, Linebacker
If your defense lives as an attacking single-gap team, David Long might be a somewhat inexpensive but very talented option. He was the only linebacker whose average tackle happened before the 1-yard mark.
MORE: Top 100 NFL Free Agents
In other words, let him go downhill and blow up plays at the line. He isn’t the cleanest coverage player, but he was only in his first season as a true full-time starter, and he was already showing signs of improvement.
Dalton Schultz, Tight End
Dalton Schultz is an underrated athlete and route runner at the position, which made him a favorite target of Dak Prescott on third downs and in the red zone. While he isn’t the strongest blocker, there are far worse inline run blockers at the position than Schultz, who has continued to improve his play strength since arriving from Stanford.
Eric Kendricks, Linebacker
Although the Minnesota Vikings made Eric Kendricks a cap casualty, Eric Kendricks has more than enough juice left to be one of the better linebackers in the league. He’s played more inconsistently over the past two seasons, and it is clear he’s not quite as quick as he once was, but he is still one of the most intelligent linebackers in the league, both defending the run and the pass.