Which players, teams made out best at deadline?
The table is just about set for free agency in the NFL for 2023.
Tuesday, the 4 p.m. ET deadline passed for all 32 teams to use the franchise or transition tag to restrict the movement of one of their pending free agents. Six players were tagged, all receiving the “non-exclusive” franchise version: Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, Dallas Cowboys RB Tony Pollard, Jacksonville Jaguars TE Evan Engram, Las Vegas Raiders RB Josh Jacobs, New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley and Washington Commanders DT Daron Payne. All are free to negotiate offers with other clubs and could be signed away at the cost of two first-round picks if their current team declines to match contractual terms.
Here are the winners and losers from this year’s tag deadline:
Lamar Jackson: The 2019 league MVP, who serves as his own agent, finally has the opportunity to try to determine his market value after Baltimore chose not to give him the $45 million exclusive franchise tag – which pays significantly more than the $32.4 million non-exclusive tag for quarterbacks in 2023. However as reports trickle out about QB-starved teams that might not pursue Jackson (Atlanta Falcons? Carolina Panthers?), it’s worth wondering how successful he’ll be obtaining the Deshaun Watson-level payday he apparently seeks.
Running backs: Barkley, Jacobs and Pollard will get nice bumps to their paychecks at a position where players are so often left holding the bag after completing their rookie contract. Barkley, in particular, seems to stand a good chance of getting a multi-year agreement before he has to decide whether to sign his $10.1 million tag.
Intermediate quarterback market: It seems to be materializing anew this week after the New Orleans Saints’ Derek Carr, Seattle Seahawks’ Geno Smith and Giants’ Daniel Jones all signed new deals putting them in the $35-40 million average annual pay range – though incentives inflate those numbers to a degree. Still, Jones and Smith got paid and avoided the tag, while Carr got the new home he was seeking. None will reside at the top of the lofty QB pay scale, where Carr was once perched, but nice to see good players get rewarded for good work.
Declined fifth-year options: Jacobs and Jones, both first-round picks in 2019, had to believe in themselves given their teams essentially did not after declining the lucrative options of their rookie contracts last year. Jacobs, now a league rushing champ, and Jones, now a quarterback with a playoff win under his belt, are deserving of their new rewards.
Giants: They used every bit of Tuesday’s deadline while hammering out a long-term deal with Jones but managed to keep him and Barkley – easily New York’s most important offensive players – in the fold for 2023 at the very least.
Ravens: “We want Lamar, and Lamar wants to be a Raven. And, in the end, that’s gonna work itself out in my mind,” coach John Harbaugh said at last week’s scouting combine. “I’ve always been confident that it’s gonna get worked out, and I still believe that.” And yet allowing Jackson to at least engage with other teams feels like something of an admission of defeat, or certainly a retreat, by the Ravens. No guarantee moving forward that Jackson would want to be with an organization that didn’t meet his contractual demands, and it certainly shouldn’t be assumed he’ll sign his tag in a timely manner if he doesn’t ink an outside pact. Still feels like an awfully fraught situation.
Ezekiel Elliott: With Pollard getting the tag from Dallas, the next question seems to be how much of a monetary haircut Zeke has to take – the Cowboys’ second-best back is due nearly $11 million in base salary in 2023 – presuming he has a spot on the team at all next season.
Trent Baalke: The Jags general manager continues to mystify with his deployment of the tag. LT Cam Robinson received it in 2021 and again in 2022 before receiving an extension. Now it’s Engram. Both are good players but neither warrant being at the top of their positional financial ladder – and neither has earned a Pro Bowl berth while in Jacksonville. The decision seems especially baffling in Engram’s case given the extraordinary depth of the tight end class in this year’s draft.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL franchise tag winners, losers: Who made out best at deadline?