The 2021 NFL offseason is beginning in earnest as teams start applying the franchise or transition tag to players entering NFL free agency. The tag can be applied from now until 4 p.m. ET Tuesday.
The franchise tag binds the player to the team for one season. Franchise tag figures are based on the top five salaries at each position. The NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to raise the salary-cap floor from $175 million to $180 million. The salary cap could settle between $180 million and $185 million, a sizable drop from the 2020 cap of $198.2 million, according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano.
The 2021 league year begins March 17.
Here’s a look at those players who have been tagged, the reasons why and the tag figure:
Franchise tag salary: Expected to be $18.03 million (salary cap pending)
Career highlights: Four-time Pro Bowler; first-team All-Pro in 2020
Why he was tagged: It has long been a tricky negotiation with Scherff, whose play warrants being paid at the top of the market for a guard. Previous years ended in deals turned down. But he has also known Washington would keep him under the tag, increasing his ability to make more money — as long as he was willing to play on one-year deals. The team’s desire remains to sign him to a long-term deal, and Scherff was effusive in saying he wants to stick around. Placing the tag on him gives Washington the ability to keep working toward a long-term contract.
What he brings: Scherff provides Washington elite guard play, which is why he became the team’s first All-Pro since 1996. He’s a quiet force on the offensive front, pairing with right tackle Morgan Moses and center Chase Roullier to give Washington a solid trio up front. But Scherff has shown he can be a dominant run-blocker, both at the line and in space. And he has proven himself a pass-protector as well. He fits the mold of the kind of player coach Ron Rivera wants — an excellent worker who has a tough mindset. — John Keim
Franchise tag salary: Expected to be $10.5 million (salary cap pending)
Career highlights: After three seasons of playing in the shadow of Jamal Adams, the former second-round pick flourished last season as the leader on defense. Maye played every defensive snap, intercepted two passes and recorded two sacks and two forced fumbles. He was credited with 11 passes defensed, which tied for third among league safeties, according to NFL Next Gen Stats; and he allowed a 66.9 passer rating as the closest defender, which ranked second for safeties (minimum: 500 coverage snaps). He is a four-year starter who played every game in all but one season.
Why he was tagged: The two sides aren’t close to a long-term agreement. Negotiations took a bad turn last week, when Maye’s agent criticized the Jets on Twitter. Truth is, the Jets have a poor track record for retaining their own players. They say the goal is to lock up Maye, a captain and team-voted MVP, but that’s a familiar song (see: Adams) that doesn’t play well. At $10.5 million, nearly a $1 million decrease from last year, it made all the sense in the world to use the franchise tag for the first time since 2016 (defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson).
What he brings: Maye is a good free safety but not an elite one, and he also is capable of playing in the box as a strong safety. The previous coaching staff, desperate to replace Adams, used Maye at strong safety for a few games last season. The results were mixed. Make no mistake, Maye is a natural free safety. It’s an important position in coach Robert Saleh’s defense, which employs a lot of single-high looks. The knock on Maye is he doesn’t intercept many passes — only six in four years. That’s what separates him from the top players at his position. His age (28 on Tuesday) is worth noting; he is two years older than most of the first-time free agents. — Rich Cimini
Franchise tag salary: Expected to be about $13.729 million (salary cap pending)
Career highlights: Over the past two seasons Simmons has been selected as a second-team All-Pro (2019) and to the Pro Bowl (2020). He has 12 interceptions over the past three seasons combined and topped 90 tackles in each. Simmons has also played every defensive snap in each of the past three seasons and has not played fewer than 74% of the defensive snaps since his rookie year in 2016. Broncos coach Vic Fangio has simply said: “Justin is a great player … we love him.”
Why he was tagged: Simmons played on the franchise player tag last season, which he called “betting on myself.” His representatives have been trying to hammer out a long-term deal with the Broncos. While Simmons has made it clear he would not be all that thrilled playing on the tag for a second consecutive year, Broncos general manager George Paton said as recently as Thursday he is trying to work out that long-term deal. The tag gives the Broncos the ability to negotiate with Simmons without the worry of him leaving to another team without at least the chance to match any offer. The Broncos have tagged, and then signed, players to long-term deals in the weeks that followed the tag in the past, including Demaryius Thomas and Von Miller.
What he brings: In short, everything. Simmons has the athleticism, anticipation and awareness to play the deep safety and he is also a physical player along the line of scrimmage. Simmons even lined up at cornerback when needed earlier in his career when the defense was hit by injuries. Off the field he is one of the team’s most consistent and most active players in the community. — Jeff Legwold