Analysis

Projecting long-term contracts for 2021's franchise-tagged 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.

Each of the 10 players to receive the franchise tag in 2021 has either signed the tender or a long-term extension with their current team. Below, I'll project what long-term extensions could look like for the seven tagged players who have yet to agree on new deals.

First, here's a quick look at the extensions signed by tagged players so far:

QB Dak Prescott signed a four-year, $160 million contract with the Cowboys. (Note that the tag was placed on Prescott as a formality after news that he and the team had agreed to a long-term extension.)

DE Leonard Williams signed a three-year, $63 million contract with the Giants. 

S Justin Simmons signed a three-year, $61 million contract with the Broncos. 

NOTE: Contract information was sourced from Over The Cap and spotrac.com.

Allen Robinson
Allen Robinson
Chicago Bears · WR

Age at start of season: 28

Experience: Seven NFL seasons

2021 franchise tag cost: $18.0 million


Here is the list of quarterbacks Robinson has caught touchdowns from: Blake Bortles, Mitchell Trubisky, Nick Foles and Chase Daniel. Trusting his signal-caller has presumably been the toughest calling of Robinson's NFL career. Over the last two seasons, Bears quarterbacks averaged 6.3 passing yards per attempt, which is the lowest figure in the NFL over that span. They placed in the bottom 10 in passing yards per game (234.3), touchdown-to-interception ratio (46:28) and passer rating (85.3). 


Despite the exceptional inconsistency under center, Robinson finished in the top 10 in the NFL in receiving yards (1,250) while logging a career-high 102 receptions. He posted 12 games with 70 or more receiving yards last season, tying with NFL receiving yards leader Stefon Diggs for the most such games in the NFL. Since 2019, Robinson ranks in the top three among wide receivers in receptions (200), receiving yards (2,397) and receiving first downs (131). Among the few players ahead of Robinson in each of those categories is DeAndre Hopkins, the NFL's highest-paid player at the position. Hopkins (2,572) and Diggs (2,665) are the only receivers with more receiving yards than Robinson over that span. 


Oh, and in addition to producing at an elite level, Robinson has pretty much singlehandedly carried the Bears' passing attack. He has produced 22.6 percent of the Bears scrimmage yards since 2019 -- only Washington's Terry McLaurin (39.6) has accounted for a higher percentage of his team's offense. Coming off two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, Robinson is one more away from becoming the first Bears player to hit at least 1,000 receiving yards in three different seasons with the team.


One thing that makes Robinson special is his ability to win in traffic, as echoed by a variety of analytics sources. Since signing a three-year, $42 million pact with the Chicago in 2018, he's made 61 contested catches on 117 such targets, as charted by Pro Football Focus, pacing the NFL. According to Next Gen Stats, Robinson's 47 receptions in tight windows (fewer than 1 yard of separation) led the league in that same span, and his 692 receiving yards ranked second. 


Robinson's efficiency in the red zone could be improved. In Chicago, Robinson has caught just 44.9 percent (22) of his 49 red-zone targets. This is the seventh-lowest catch percentage among 48 players with at least 30 such targets. 


The Bears can play tag again with Robinson next season. But a second franchise tag would cost at least $21.6 million in 2022. Robinson is getting closer to the wrong side of 30, so there is some incentive for his side to get a deal done, as well. Still, there is no reason for him to undervalue himself just to do so. 

Comparable contracts

Table inside Article
Player Length Total value Average Guaranteed Year signed
Julio Jones 3 years $66M $22M $64M 2019
Keenan Allen 4 years $80M $20M $27M 2020
Amari Cooper 5 years $100M $20M $40M 2020

Robinson is one of the most underrated receivers in the NFL. The most effective limiting factor remains the player throwing him the football. His career list of quarterbacks makes the combined list of the Falcons' Jones, the Chargers' Allen and the Cowboys' Cooper (Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Justin Herbert, Derek Carr and Dak Prescott) look like a Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks. Even taking into account Jones' relatively advanced age (32), he is on a different level than the other players listed. However, he is included because he helps round out the $20 million-per-year club at receiver, along with Allen and Cooper. (Hopkins remains an outlier at $27.3 million per year.) Robinson could flirt with joining this club on his next contract. 

ROBINSON'S PROJECTED CONTRACT: Three years, $61 million ($20.3 million per year), with $42 million guaranteed

Chris Godwin
Chris Godwin
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · WR

Age at start of season: 25

Experience: Four NFL seasons

2021 franchise tag cost: $15.983 million


When Bruce Arians arrived in Tampa Bay prior to the 2019 season, he knew what he had in Godwin, calling the then-23-year-old receiver -- who had not cracked 60 catches or 850 yards in either of his two pro campaigns -- "close to a 100-catch guy."


The Penn State alum caught 86 passes in 14 games that season, and his 1,333 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns each ranked among the top five in the league. Since Arians' proclamation, Godwin has averaged 83.6 receiving yards per game, which is the fifth-highest in the NFL in that span (among receivers to log a minimum of 20 games). His 1,120 receiving yards from the slot also ranked fifth over that span, according to Next Gen Stats.


Godwin's 2020 regular season was plagued with various injuries (concussion, hamstring, finger), but when he was on the field, he was one of Tom Brady's most efficient targets. His 131.1 passer rating when targeted in his first season with Brady ranked only behind Davante Adams' 136.0 mark among 65 players with at least 80 targets.


Godwin did have seven drops on 31 targets in four playoff games in 2020, according to PFF, but that seems to be an outlier for him, given that he registered just six drops on 355 targets in 58 career regular-season games prior to that. Those six drops are tied with Allen Robinson and Antonio Brown for the fewest among players with 300-plus targets over that span. He also led the Bucs' pass-catchers in postseason receptions (16) and receiving yards (232) during their run to a Lombardi Trophy.


The diversity in Godwin's alignment paints a picture of how many ways he can be used in the Tompa Bay offense. He joined the Chiefs' Travis Kelce and the Rams' Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp as the only players in the NFL to line up both in the slot and out wide for at least 200 snaps and align tight at least 100 times in 2020 (per Next Gen Stats). And Godwin did this despite, again, missing four regular-season games. Going back over the last two seasons, the only players to align in the slot, out wide and tight for at least 250 snaps are those four players and the Raiders' Darren Waller.


Although he had to give up his jersey number upon Brady's arrival, Godwin is an integral part of both the Buccaneers' offense and their bid to go "for two." With a full offseason and clean bill of health, Godwin will be able to show what he is really capable of with Brady tossing the rock. The Buccaneers are surely hoping to get a deal done before the July 15 deadline.

Comparable contracts

Table inside Article
Player Length Total value Average Guaranteed Year signed
Kenny Golladay 4 years $72M $18M $28M 2021
Mike Evans 5 years $82.5M $16.5M $38M 2018

With Godwin and Robinson kept off the market by the franchise tag, Golladay took his time before cashing in on a four-year deal worth $72 million with the Giants. Godwin's teammate, Evans, signed an extension worth $16.5 million per year with the Bucs in 2018. Disregarding lost revenues and assuming a salary cap equal to 2020 (which is a conservative estimate), Evans' contract has an adjusted average per year of $18.5 million. Slotting Godwin at that range feels about right.

GODWIN'S PROJECTED CONTRACT: Four years, $76 million ($19 million per year), with $40 million guaranteed.

Taylor Moton
Taylor Moton
Carolina Panthers · OT

Age at start of season: 27

Experience: Four NFL seasons

2021 franchise tag cost: $13.754 million


The Panthers used the tag to keep their best piece along the offensive line. A second-round pick in 2017, Moton has made 48 consecutive starts over the past three seasons, entrenching himself at right tackle early in Year 2 (his first two career starts, in 2018, were at left tackle).


Moton is a versatile run blocker adept in both man and zone schemes. He's also proven to be a plus in pass protection. He was the lone offensive tackle to not allow a quarterback hit among 47 such players with 450 or more pass-protection snaps in 2020, according to PFF. Over the last three seasons, he's allowed just four quarterback hits. He averages one hit allowed per 490.3 pass protection plays, the best ratio among all tackles with 600-plus snaps over that span.


Moton had the most pass-pro snaps (622) of any player to allow 20 or fewer pressures last season. Among 37 tackles with 500 or more pass-blocking opportunities in 2020, Moton had 23 combined sacks, hits and pressures allowed, the fourth-fewest of the sample. The only players with fewer were the Browns' Jack Conklin (19), the Broncos' Garett Bolles (21) and the Texans' Laremy Tunsil (22).


However, Moton played at least 38 more pass-pro snaps than each of them, with Conklin registering 526, Bolles 584 and Tunsil 539. Moton allowed one sack, hit or pressure on every 27.0 pass-pro snaps -- only Bolles (27.8 snaps) and Conklin (27.7 snaps) averaged more snaps between a sack, hit or pressure allowed.


Whether the Panthers find their quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft or roll with incumbent Teddy Bridgewater again in 2021, Moton will be a major contributor to Matt Rhule's success on offense. He's been consistent and available for the Panthers since 2018 and has yet to miss a game in his career. The Panthers should want to strike a long-term pact.

Comparable contracts

Table inside Article
Player Length Total value Average Guaranteed Year signed
Lane Johnson 4 years $72M $18M $20.4M 2019
Trent Brown 4 years $66M $16.5M $36M 2019
Jack Conklin 3 years $42M $14M $30M 2020

It can be hard to be recognize on Carolina's offensive line, but Moton is one of the more complete right tackles in the NFL. Talent-wise, Johnson is the superior player. However, Moton is two years younger (27) than Johnson was (29) in Nov. 2019 when he signed his extension with the Eagles worth $18 million per season. Moton has enjoyed a more consistent run of success than Brown did before he signed with the Raiders in 2019 (note that as part of his trade to the Patriots this offseason, Brown restructured his contract, which had two years remaining heading into 2021, to be for one year and $9 million). Moton has produced in pass protection at a similar level to Conklin, but the latter player dealt with an injury and up-and-down play in his final few seasons in Tennessee before signing with the Browns in 2020.

MOTON'S PROJECTED CONTRACT: Four years, $68 million ($17 million per year), with $35 million guaranteed.

Cam Robinson
Cam Robinson
Jacksonville Jaguars · OT

Age entering season: 25

Experience: Four NFL seasons

2021 franchise tag cost: $13.754 million


Cam Robinson's tag was the most surprising of the offseason. However, it still makes sense for the Jaguars on multiple levels. Barring the unthinkable, they'll be selecting Trevor Lawrence first overall on April 29, and protecting the quarterback will (and should) be the No. 1 priority in 2021 and beyond.


Keeping a capable left tackle with 47 career starts is a far safer proposition than starting over at the position for Lawrence's rookie season. Given the depressed value of the franchise tag ($13.754 million for offensive linemen) and the Jaguars' surplus of salary-cap space (over $70 million entering free agency), retaining the best option available to them was the sensible decision.


Still, Robinson, who tore his ACL two games into the 2018 season, has so far failed to develop into the player most expected him to following a promising rookie campaign that culminated in the Jaguars' 2017 AFC Championship Game appearance. Although Robinson has shown flashes at times, that initial pro campaign remains his best work.


He's a versatile mover in the run game, but his deficiencies in pass protection show up far more often than desired. Robinson struggles particularly with setting the edge in pass sets, as he was beat outside on numerous occasions. According to PFF, he not only had the ninth-most pressures allowed in the NFL last season (40), but he also registered the fifth-most plays in which he was beaten by his defender but no pressure was recorded (31).


Those numbers are far from flattering for the former second-round pick. However, Jacksonville's second-round pick in 2019, right tackle Jawaan Taylor, allowed the most pressures in the NFL in 2020, with 58.


It is unknown what new coach Urban Meyer's offense will look like in 2021. It will, however, almost certainly be led by Lawrence, and the men protecting the most valuable asset (maybe in team history) will be integral to the success of said offense. Robinson is the best option at the moment. Barring an agreement on a team-friendly contract that provides the Jaguars with an early out, the left tackle and the team seem destined to revisit this discussion after the 2021 season. That said, I still provided a projected contract value below, should an extension be agreed upon this offseason.

Comparable contracts

Table inside Article
Player Length Total value Average Guaranteed Year signed
Taylor Decker 4 years $60M $15M $29M 2020
Dion Dawkins 4 years $58M $15M $30M 2020
Donovan Smith 3 years $41M $14M $27M 2019

At 25 years old, Robinson is younger than the Lions' Decker (27), the Bills' Dawkins (26) and the Buccaneers' Smith (26) were in their first seasons after signing the contracts referenced above. However, Robinson is also the worst pass protector of the group. The Buccaneers awarded Donovan Smith a contract after one above average season (2018) and have seen him settle in as a quality starter since, signing him to a two-year, $32 million extension last week. Robinson's per-year average should be around what these players earned on the above deals, if he's able to secure a long-term extension. However, expect him to play the 2021 season on the franchise tag.

ROBINSON'S PROJECTED CONTRACT: Three years, $42 million ($14 million per year), with $25 million guaranteed.

Brandon Scherff
Brandon Scherff
Washington Football Team · OG

Age at start of season: 29

Experience: Six NFL seasons

2021 franchise tag cost: $18.036 million


The franchise tag has been kind to Scherff in the short term. He made $15.030 million on the tag in 2020 and is scheduled to earn $18.036 million -- a 120 percent increase of his 2020 salary -- this season. His 2021 salary is higher than the average annual value of all but four NFL offensive linemen (the four highest-paid left tackles: San Francisco's Trent Williams, Green Bay's David Bakhtiari, Houston's Laremy Tunsil and Baltimore's Ronnie Stanley).


The tag will also help Scherff in negotiations. Washington is staring at a July 15 deadline to control Scherff's rights beyond 2021. A third franchise tag in 2022 would be financially prohibitive, as it would cost the price of the tender for quarterbacks (projected to be over $28 million by Over The Cap). In short, the team needs to get a deal done before the deadline to avoid Scherff hitting the open market in 2022.


Injuries have plagued Scherff for most of his career, as he's missed multiple games in each of the last four seasons. Despite this, there are reasons Scherff was the fifth overall pick in 2015. An excellent run-blocker, he can move bodies at the point of attack, and he can also pull, move in space and get to the second level. Scherff holds his own in pass protection, showing awareness and a solid anchor against interior passer rushers.


Over the last three seasons, Scherff ranks in the top 10 among guards in overall, pass-blocking and run-blocking grade by PFF (among those with a minimum of 450 combined snaps). Scherff has allowed just three quarterback hits since 2018, tied for the fewest among guards with 1,000 or more pass-protection snaps over that span.


He is also one of four guards to make the Pro Bowl in four of the last five seasons, including David DeCastro (five), Zack Martin (four) and Trai Turner (four). Washington certainly doesn't want to lose another perennial Pro Bowler from the offensive line after trading away Trent Williams in 2020. This is exactly why the team offered the exorbitant $18 million franchise tag for Scherff in 2021.


With the July 15 deadline looming, Washington will need to bring its best offer to the table. With Scherff this far down the road toward freedom, it will take a market-setting deal to entice Scherff to eschew free agency and sign long-term. At 29 years old, Scherff may be looking at the lone lucrative long-term contract of his career. He should rightfully be trying to cash out.

Comparable contracts

Table inside Article
Player Length Total value Average Guaranteed Year signed
Joe Thuney 5 years $80M $16M $32M 2021
Zack Martin 6 years $84M $14M $32M 2018
Brandon Brooks 4 years $56M $14M $13.3M 2019

Scherff is the superior player to Thuney, who reset the guard market when he agreed to a five-year deal worth $16 million per season with the Chiefs on March 15. When healthy, the Eagles' Brooks is a dominant presence but has suffered unfortunate serious injuries the last two seasons. The Cowboys' Martin is the best guard in the NFL, but Scherff is at the upper echelon of his position, and at that point, it's not about who is best but who is next. When Scherff signs a new contract (barring an injury or extreme decline in pay in 2021), he will have his stint as the league's highest-paid interior offensive lineman.

SCHERFF'S PROJECTED CONTRACT: Five years, $85 million ($17 million per year), with $48 million guaranteed.

Marcus Maye
Marcus Maye
New York Jets · FS

Age at start of season: 28

Experience: Four NFL seasons

2021 franchise tag cost: $10.612 million


During his first three NFL seasons, Maye played in the shadow of Jamal Adams, who was selected sixth overall by the Jets in the same draft Maye was taken in the second round. As Adams became the team captain, a Pro Bowler and the versatile chess piece of the Jets' defense, Maye spent over 80 percent of his snaps aligned as the deep safety.


In 2020, his first season sans Adams following Adams' trade to Seattle, Maye's leadership, value and versatility were evident. Though he didn't make the Pro Bowl, Maye became team captain and filled the multi-purpose defensive back spot Adams vacated. Maye played each of the Jets' 1,078 defensive snaps in 2020 -- Seattle's All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner was the only player to play more (1,101), according to Next Gen Stats.


Maye and his former teammate, Adams, were two of four players with at least 150 snaps at deep safety, slot cornerback and linebacker in 2020. The others were three-time Pro Bowler Malcolm Jenkins and rookie star Jeremy Chinn. Each of these players also had at least 85 snaps along the line of scrimmage.


The former Florida Gator set or tied career highs in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions and passes defensed in 2020. His 11 passes defensed were tied for fifth-most among safeties, and he was the only player in the NFL with 10-plus passes defensed to also record multiple interceptions, sacks and forced fumbles last season. Maye's 23.6 forced incompletion percentage since 2019 is third among 52 safeties with at least 50 targets in coverage.


Maye still played over 60 percent of his snaps as a deep safety in 2020 (per Next Gen Stats). Only Green Bay's Adrian Amos (91.5) and Cincinnati's Jessie Bates (90.0) had a higher PFF coverage grade than Maye (85.8) among safeties in 2020, while the latter finished fourth at the position in overall grade (82.9). He allowed just 198 yards in coverage, the third-fewest among 37 safeties with at least 35 targets. But he also impacted the run, as his seven tackles for loss or no gain were in the top six at the position.


Maye was voted team captain and Curtis Martin Team MVP by his peers in 2020. He's the type of player his teammates want to play with and for. New Jets coach Robert Saleh can trust Maye's range in the single-high looks he tends to employ, while knowing he will show up as a tackler. Maye should be a building block for New York's new defense.

Comparable contracts

Table inside Article
Player Length Total value Average Guaranteed Signed
Justin Simmons 4 years $61M $15M $32M 2021
Eddie Jackson 4 years $58M $15M $22M 2020
Budda Baker 4 years $59M $15M $22M 2020

Simmons reset the safety market this offseason with the contract he landed from the Broncos, but he is also a year younger than Maye and had the leverage of 2021's tag being his second. Maye's biggest downside at the moment is his age. At 28 years old, he's older than most first-time free agents. Jackson also entered the NFL as a 24-year-old rookie in 2017, but his ridiculous production over his first three seasons prompted the Bears to re-up him before the final year of his rookie deal (2020). Maye has better ball production (six interceptions, 22 passes defensed) than fellow 2017 second-round pick Baker (two interceptions, 20 passes defensed) has had with the Cardinals.

Maye's agent definitely has made clear his position on his client receiving the franchise tag:

MAYE'S PROJECTED CONTRACT: Four years, $59.01 million ($15 million per year), with $35 million guaranteed.

Marcus Williams
Marcus Williams
New Orleans Saints · FS

Age at start of season: 25

Experience: Four NFL seasons

2021 franchise tag cost: $10.612 million


Unfortunately for Williams, he may still be most known for his blunder against Stefon Diggs during the "Minneapolis Miracle" that helped seal the Saints' fate in a loss to the Vikings in the 2017 Divisional Round. Regrettably, this has overshadowed Williams' stellar play during his career. He was just 20 years old when he was selected in the second round in 2017 and has been a starter since opening day of his rookie year.


Williams has spent over 90 percent of his career snaps as a deep safety (per Next Gen Stats), and ball skills are one of his better assets. Williams has forced an incompletion on 25.7 percent of his targets in coverage over his last two seasons, the fourth-highest clip among safeties (according to PFF, among those with a minimum of 25 targets). Despite declining in 2020, he allowed a 47.8 passer rating in coverage in 2019, also ranking in the top four at the position (among those with a minimum of 20 targets).


He has 13 career interceptions (since 2017). The only exclusive safeties to record more over that span are the Titans' Kevin Byard (18), the Vikings' Harrison Smith (16), the Chiefs' Tyrann Mathieu (14), the Broncos' Justin Simmons (14) and the Seahawks' Quandre Diggs (14). Each of those players (outside of Diggs) spent some time (briefly, in some cases) as the NFL's highest-paid safety.


As far as grades are concerned, PFF has smiled upon Williams' career. He has top-six grades among safeties overall (fourth), in coverage (sixth), against the run (tied for first) and as a pass rusher (second) since entering the NFL in 2017.


Despite finding their way under the cap by releasing or restructuring numerous contracts, the Saints would still love the flexibility that a Williams extension (or an extension with Marshon Lattimore or Ryan Ramczyk, for that matter) would provide. The Saints could give Williams a lucrative extension and lower his 2021 cap figure (the entirety of his franchise tag salary). The fact the team issued him the franchise tag despite its cap limitations illuminates the value the Saints place on the player.

Comparable contracts

Table inside Article
Player Length Total value Average Guaranteed Year signed
Budda Baker 4 years $59M $15M $22M 2020
Justin Simmons 4 years $61M $15M $32M 2021
Kevin Byard 5 years $71M $14M $20M 2019

Unlike Maye, Williams' age works in his favor, because he doesn't turn 25 until September 8. Williams and Baker are the same age, although the latter signed at 24. Williams has superior ball production (13 interceptions, 30 passes defensed) to Baker (two interceptions, 20 passes defensed). Williams has recorded similar numbers to the Titans' Byard (18 interceptions, 40 passes defensed) and fellow franchise-tag recipient Simmons (14 interceptions, 33 passes defensed). Byard, Baker and Simmons each stood as the league's highest-paid safety when signing their respective contracts (Simmons currently holds that distinction).

WILLIAMS' PROJECTED CONTRACT: Five years, $75 million ($15 million per year), with $40 million guaranteed.

Follow Anthony Holzman-Escareno on Twitter.

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