Projecting extensions for franchise-tagged players: Offense

  • Offensive players
  • Defensive players

The franchise and transition tags might keep free agents from hitting the open market — but they don’t mean the end of negotiations, as tagged players can continue to work out long-term extensions with their teams up until the July 15 deadline. Anthony Holzman-Escareno projects what multi-year contracts could look like for the tagged players below:

Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys: Four years, $138 million

Age at start of season: 27
Experience: Four seasons
2019 stats (NFL rank): 4,902 passing yards (second), 8.2 passing yards/attempt (fifth), 30 passing TDs (fourth)
Franchise tag salary: $30.144 million (Over the Cap)

The longer the Cowboys wait to sign their franchise quarterback, the less leverage they have, and the higher Prescott’s long-term price tag will rise. Prescott has had tremendous success in his career, winning two NFC East titles in four seasons. His 40 QB wins over that time trail only future Hall of Famer and new Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (47). Prescott’s passer rating since he entered the league (97.0) is in the top four among QBs in their first four seasons in the Super Bowl era, placing him on a quarterbacking Mt. Rushmore alongside Hall of Famers Kurt Warner (103.0) and Dan Marino (95.2) and Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (101.8).

The quarterback shouldered the largest load of his career in 2019, finishing with career highs in passing yards (4,902) and passing touchdowns (30). However, the Cowboys suffered their first losing season with Prescott at the helm, fizzling down the stretch after a promising 3-0 start against underwhelming competition. Head coach Jason Garrett parted ways with the team and was replaced by Mike McCarthy, hired in part to help further maximize Prescott.

Regardless, the quarterback market of late is not about who’s best, but who’s next. The Cowboys reportedly offered Prescott $33 million per season with $105 million guaranteed, but that didn’t get the job done. Prescott’s highly touted 2016 draftmates Jared Goff (receiving $33.5 million per year from the Rams) and Carson Wentz (receiving $32 million per year from the Eagles) have each already signed lucrative extensions, and Prescott’s career totals in QB wins, passing yards and offensive TDs are higher than those of Goff or Wentz, as is his career passer rating.

Anybody, be it a Cowboys legend or not, would be foolish to ask Prescott to provide his services at a discount. As a former fourth-round pick, he’s made just $4.03 million so far in his NFL career, and he’s earned the right to be paid in full. Dallas had a chance to sign Prescott to a much more team-friendly deal last January, but that time has passed. Though the organization undoubtedly wants to lock Prescott into one of those Cowboys contracts of six-plus years (like those given to Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Ezekiel Elliott), the two-time Pro Bowler might want a shorter deal, to give him the opportunity to re-up on a third contract. Prescott also has time; should star QBs Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson land extensions anytime soon, they’ll provide more data points for Prescott’s camp.

PROJECTED CONTRACT DETAILS
Average per year: $34.5 million
Full guarantees: $75 million
Total guarantees: $115 million

Here’s how Prescott stacks up against comparable players:

Dak Prescott
Comparable Players

�� SEA Russell Wilson
�� LAR Jared Goff
�� PHI Carson Wentz

Market Valuation: $33-35 million APY #Cowboys pic.twitter.com/HTXnYZWoqx

Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans: Four years, $56 million

Age at start of season: 26
Experience: Four seasons
2019 stats (NFL rank): 303 carries (first), 1,540 rushing yards (first), 16 rushing TD (tied for first)
Franchise tag salary: $10.278 million

Henry picked the perfect season to bully his way to an NFL rushing title (and lead the league in carries and rushing TDs): the last season of his rookie contract. Henry also earned 1,273 rushing yards over an eight-game stretch in 2019, from Week 10 through the Divisional Round of the playoffs, a feat only bested once since 1950 (by Adrian Peterson in 2012). Henry’s carries and rush yards have increased in each of his first four seasons. Though he’s had a fine offensive line in Tennessee over the years, Henry does create for himself. His 4.2 yards per carry after contact in 2019 led the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (among those with a minimum of 100 rushes). His 103 forced missed tackles over the last two seasons are the third-most in the NFL, per PFF. And, of course, Henry carried the Titans on a freight train to the AFC Championship Game, rushing for more yards in each of the Titans’ playoff wins (182 and 195) than quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for in those two games combined (160 yards).

The downside to Henry is his lack of a presence in the passing game; he’s never caught 20 passes in a season, though he is a capable pass protector. His biggest problem, however, will be navigating the highly depressed running back market. The team’s decision to extend Tannehill and franchise-tag Henry might not be great, optics-wise, for the locker room, but the moves reflect the state of the running back market right now. Setting Henry and his franchise-tag figure aside, only three running backs make over $10 million per season (Ezekiel Elliott, Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson).

PROJECTED CONTRACT DETAILS
Average per year: $14 million
Full guarantees: $27 million
Total guarantees: $33 million

Here’s how Henry stacks up against comparable players:

Derrick Henry
Comparable Players

�� DAL Ezekiel Elliott
�� NYJ Le���Veon Bell
�� ARI David Johnson (traded to HOU)

Market Valuation: $12-15 million APY #Titans pic.twitter.com/UieDtHl3Yi

A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: Three years, $50 million

The Bengals will want to supply likely No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow with a bona fide No. 1 receiver to throw to. When Green is at full strength, he’s all of that and more. One of the best receivers in team history (if not the best), Green trails only Chad Johnson on the franchise leaderboard in career receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. An elite route runner with great body control, Green can win at every level of the passing game. His 80.2 career receiving yards per game are good for the seventh most in NFL history. The No. 4 overall pick in 2011 has 8,907 receiving yards and 63 receiving touchdowns in his career, counting in the top six in the NFL in both categories over that span despite missing at least six games in three of the last four seasons.

Therein lies the question — and the risk — with Green: age and injury. He’ll be 32 at the start of the season and has only played nine games since 2018. While he’s one of just three players with 1,000-plus receiving yards in each of his first five seasons in NFL history (along with Randy Moss and Mike Evans), Green has only surpassed that threshold once since 2016.

To Green’s credit, the last time we saw him on a football field, he was dominant. In 2018, Green recorded either 75-plus receiving yards or one-plus receiving touchdowns in seven of the eight full games he played prior to his injury. His per-16-game numbers for 2018 work out to an All-Pro caliber season: 90 receptions, 1,374 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns.

Green’s case for a long-term extension is a complex one. He’s clearly more talented and more accomplished than the other receivers his age signing multi-year deals (like DeSean Jackson, Emmanuel Sanders and Golden Tate), but he also hasn’t shown he can preserve his prime into his 30s like draft-mate Julio Jones has. This is why for Green, comparables stem more from the numbers he wants in a deal than the numbers he put on the field in his injury-hampered recent seasons.

The value of the franchise tag also comes into play. Worth $17.971 million this season, a second tag would run the Bengals $21.6 million in 2021 — or a total of almost $40 million over two seasons. Any multi-year contract would likely have to start around that number, which the Bengals may not desire to tie themselves into long term. Thus, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play out the year on the tag.

PROJECTED CONTRACT DETAILS
Average per year: $16.7 million
Full guarantees: $20 million
Total guarantees: $22 million

Here’s how Green stacks up against comparable players:

A.J. Green
Comparable Contracts

�� KC Sammy Watkins
�� PHI Alshon Jeffery
�� DEN Emmanuel Sanders (2016)

Market Valuation: $14-17 million APY #Bengals pic.twitter.com/WGHGu5O0ma

Hunter Henry, TE, Los Angeles Chargers: Four years, $40 million

One number makes me believe that Henry will play the 2020 season on the franchise tag: 41. As in, Henry has only played in 41 of a possible 64 career games due to multiple injuries, which have also prevented him from yet playing a full season. Despite the missed time, the 2016 second-round pick has 17 receiving touchdowns in his first four seasons. The only tight ends with more for the Chargers are etched in franchise and league lore: Antonio Gates and Kellen Winslow Sr.

Henry finished 2019 with career highs in receptions (55) and receiving yards (652) and ranked in the top eight at the position on a per-game basis in each category. He’s proven to be a security blanket in the middle of the field throughout his career — his 87.1 percent catch rate in the middle third since 2018 leads all tight ends with at least 25 such targets, per Next Gen Stats.

On-field performance has never been a problem for Henry. On-field participation has been a little more troublesome. This conundrum makes him an ideal candidate to play out this season on the franchise-tag tender. That said, if he did land an extension, he would garner a relatively substantial return.

PROJECTED CONTRACT DETAILS
Average per year: $10 million
Full guarantees: $15 million
Total guarantees: $16 million

Here’s how Henry stacks up against comparable players:

Hunter Henry
Comparable Players

�� CLE Austin Hooper
�� CHI Trey Burton
�� PHI Zach Ertz

Market Valuation: $9-11 million APY #Chargers pic.twitter.com/5nlz8V0FfL

Joe Thuney, G, New England Patriots: Five years, $70 million

If you’ve watched a Patriots game since 2016, you’ve seen Joe Thuney (pronounced "TOO-nee") playing along the offensive line. He’s started every regular season and postseason game for the Patriots over that span: 74 in total. Furthermore, Thuney has played the most offensive snaps in the NFL (4,274) over the last four seasons, according to Next Gen Stats.

Though he’s not known for his run-blocking proficiency, Thuney has excelled as a pass blocker over the last two seasons. Only Zack Martin, who has made the Pro Bowl in all six of his NFL seasons, has a higher pass-blocking grade from PFF than Thuney since 2018. The two-time Super Bowl champion finished as PFF’s fifth-highest-graded guard overall in 2019 (among those with a minimum of 50 snaps).

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The franchise tender for all offensive linemen is calculated using the contracts of offensive tackles, who tend to be higher-paid than those at other positions on the line, and thus, interior offensive linemen don’t receive the tag often. This goes to show how much the Patriots value Thuney, who would be a good bet to reset the guard market should he ever reach free agency, because of his ability in pass protection.

However, the Patriots typically allow offensive linemen to find their paydays elsewhere. With the retirement this offseason of legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, is the team willing to let a player with four years under his instruction play out the 2020 season, then walk in 2021, with the team receiving a compensatory pick in return?

PROJECTED CONTRACT DETAILS
Average per year: $14 million
Full guarantees: $24 million
Total guarantees: $35 million

Here’s how Thuney stacks up against comparable players:

Joe Thuney
Comparable Players

�� PHI Brandon Brooks
�� DAL Zack Martin
�� JAX Andrew Norwell

Market Valuation: $13.5-15 million APY #Patriots pic.twitter.com/xKerfnJJ1V

Brandon Scherff, G, Washington Redskins: Five years, $67.5 million

Age at start of season: 28
Experience: Five seasons
Franchise tag salary: $14.781 million

The Redskins’ offensive line is in dire need of reinforcement all around, especially if seven-time Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams gets his wish for a trade out of Washington, and figuring out a long-term agreement with Scherff would help fortify the offensive front.

Scherff had the fifth-highest PFF run-blocking grade among 101 guards with 100-plus snaps last season. The four players ahead of him (the Eagles’ Brandon Brooks, the Colts’ Quenton Nelson, the Cowboys’ Zack Martin and the Ravens’ Marshal Yanda) have 19 Pro Bowl selections in their last 20 combined seasons. Scherff has made three of the last four Pro Bowls, but he has also missed 13 games over the last two seasons, and he was called for a career-high nine penalties (six for holding) in just 11 games in 2019.

Scherff’s franchise tag would make him the highest-paid interior offensive lineman in the NFL in 2019 (tied with Thuney), but Brooks and Martin have the highest average annual value of anyone at the position with a multi-year contract. Nelson, a 2018 first-rounder, will blow up the entire market when he’s eligible for a new deal.

PROJECTED CONTRACT DETAILS
Average per year: $13.5 million
Full guarantees: $36 million
Total guarantees: $45 million

Here’s how Scherff stacks up against comparable players:

Brandon Scherff
Comparable Players

�� DAL Zack Martin
�� JAX Andrew Norwell
�� LV Gabe Jackson

Market Valuation: $13-15 million APY #Redskins pic.twitter.com/U7fl4R3seF

Kenyan Drake, RB, Arizona Cardinals: Three years, $18 million

Prior to joining the Cardinals at the trade deadline last year, Drake had rushed for just 174 yards on the season (six games) for the Dolphins, who drafted him in the third round in 2016. But that fateful October transaction proved to be the catalyst Drake needed to jump start his career. In eight games with the Cards, the fifth-year back ranked among the top six in the NFL in rush yards (643), rush touchdowns (8) and games with 100-plus rush yards (3). He had more 100-yard rushing games with Arizona in half a season than he had in three-and-a-half seasons with Miami.

Drake is a big-play back as evidenced by his seven touchdowns of 40-plus yards since 2016 — only Derrick Henry (9) and Saquon Barkley (7) have as many or more among running backs. The Cardinals likely want to see Drake in a full-time role before committing anything beyond the transition tag. Should a deal happen this offseason, expect Drake to take mid-tier money for the position.

PROJECTED CONTRACT DETAILS
Average per year: $6 million
Full guarantees: $8 million
Total guarantees: $12 million

Here’s how Drake stacks up against comparable players:

Kenyan Drake
Comparable Players

�� LAC Austin Ekeler
�� SF Tevin Coleman
�� MIA Jordan Howard

Market Valuation: $5-7 million APY #Cardinals pic.twitter.com/lb91uKeeDD

Follow Anthony Holzman-Escareno on Twitter @FrontOfficeNFL.

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