The deadline for NFL teams to slap the franchise tag on a player was Wednesday at 3 p.m. local time. So, yesterday 3 p.m. came and went, and when the dust settled, there were seven NFL teams that used the tag in an effort to hang onto these players, or get a king's ransom (two first-round picks) in return for their being signed away.
Those players given the tag were (* exclusive tag):
Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram
Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul
Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones
Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short
Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson
* Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins
* Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell
Those players all now have standing offers of one guaranteed year at the average of the top five salaries at their respective positions. The first five listed above were given the non-exclusive tag, meaning other teams can sign them to offer sheets, with their incumbent team getting the right to match or receive two first-round picks in return. Cousins and Bell were hit with the exclusive version of the tag, meaning they can only negotiate a long-term deal with their current team, although they can seek out a trade partner if the incumbent team is amenable (a possibility for Cousins).
For Texans fans, more important than any of the names listed above was one name not listed — cornerback A.J. Bouye. Rather than guarantee the former undrafted free agent more than $14 million for 2017, the Texans will roll the dice and hope that they can get a deal done before other teams can negotiate with Bouye come March 7. Two days later, March 9, is the date that players can actually sign with other teams.
In a small twist of irony, Texans head coach Bill O'Brien was meeting with the media at the NFL Combine as the 3 p.m. deadline passed, delivering the following answer when asked about Bouye:
“A.J. is a very important part of our team, I’ve said that all along,” head coach Bill O’Brien said Wednesday at the NFL Combine. “He’s a guy that’s really worked hard to improve his own skillset. He played well for us this year, played well for us last year. John Butler, our secondary coach, has done an excellent job with him. We really want him back.”
So now, if you're looking for a target contract for Bouye, think the Giants' Janoris Jenkins (who is the sixth-highest-paid CB, by average annual value, according to Spotrac), who signed a five-year deal last offseason that is worth $62.5 million with $28 million of that guaranteed. That may be too rich for a Texans team with some depth at that position (assuming health for Kevin Johnson), some other needs and a $19 million albatross in Brock Osweiler's 2017 cap hit.
If you're worried about the Texans losing Bouye, these are probably the teams you most need to worry about (cap space in parentheses):
4. NEW YORK JETS ($28,119,871)
Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan is very familiar with Bouye from his time in personnel for the Texans. He was in the front office here when Bouye signed as an undrafted free agent before the 2013 season. The Jets were 31st in DVOA against the pass last year.
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3. TENNESSEE TITANS ($66,615,138)
Flush with cap space and with gigantic needs at cornerback (26th in pass defense DVOA in 2016), the Titans could help themselves and damage the team that finished in front of them in the standings in one fell swoop.
2. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS ($72,567,963)
Jaguars media has already spent time this offseason dreaming of a Bouye pairing with superb 2016 rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey. As with the Titans, this would provide the double whammy of getting Bouye AND hurting a division foe.
1. CLEVELAND BROWNS ($106,756,997)
With money to buy pretty much anything they want and needs everywhere, the Browns are a factor for every free agent. Signing with Cleveland would really put to the test the veracity of any contention from the Bouye camp that winning matters.
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