Tue Feb 23 5:14pm ET
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer
In this Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021 file photo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) moves in to block Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Mike Remmers (75) during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game in Tampa, Fla. Applying franchise and even transition tags to players can have major ramifications on a team's present and future. That was never more of a consideration than this year, with the salary cap decreasing by, for now, $18 million. That's the first time the cap has gone down, which is due to lost revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.(AP Photo/Steve Luciano, File)
In this Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 file photo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin (14) makes a diving catch in front of Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Rashad Fenton (27) during the second half of an NFL football game in Tampa, Fla. Applying franchise and even transition tags to players can have major ramifications on a team's present and future. That was never more of a consideration than this year, with the salary cap decreasing by, for now, $18 million. That's the first time the cap has gone down, which is due to lost revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.(AP Photo/Jason Behnken, File)
In this Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020 file photo, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott drops back to pass in the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns in Arlington, Texas. Applying franchise and even transition tags to players can have major ramifications on a team's present and future. That was never more of a consideration than this year, with the salary cap decreasing by, for now, $18 million. That's the first time the cap has gone down, which is due to lost revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins, File)
In this Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020 file photo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Lavonte David (54) lines up during the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Applying franchise and even transition tags to players can have major ramifications on a team's present and future. That was never more of a consideration than this year, with the salary cap decreasing by, for now, $18 million. That's the first time the cap has gone down, which is due to lost revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik, File)
NFL teams could begin playing tag on Monday, and it's no kids' game for the 32 teams.
Applying franchise and even transition tags to players can have major ramifications on a team's present and future. That was never more of a consideration than this year, with the salary cap decreasing for now by $18 million. That's the first time the cap has gone down, which is due to lost revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
''It has always gone up,'' says Bill Polian, a Pro Football Hall of Fame executive. ''So have the expectations of the players and agents. This is the first time this is not happening. That is a sea change.''
While this mini-tidal wave likely is only for the upcoming season - the league's broadcast deals should be solidified soon and will bolster future caps - it certainly could have a significant impact.
Consider the Super Bowl champs. The Buccaneers don't relish losing the likes of linebackers Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David, wide receiver Chris Godwin, running back Leonard Fournette, tight end Rob Gronkowski or defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Look for one of them, probably sackmaster Barrett or dynamic pass catcher Godwin, to get tagged for a one-year, guaranteed contract. Barrett was a franchise player in 2020 and would get about $19 million if tagged again. Godwin would get nearly $16 million.
Bucs coach Bruce Arians said after winning the NFL title that the team would find ways to keep key players. It will take some financial imagination.
''I'm very, very confident,'' Arians said. ''I have all the trust in the world in (GM Jason Licht) and what he will do. There will be dollars involved, but I think this group is so close that sometimes dollars don't matter. But we're going to do everything we can to get the dollars right, too.''
The biggest name - if not the best player - who might wind up tagged is Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. His ankle injury early last season muddled the picture in Dallas, but the team insists Prescott is the guy, even if it means a second straight franchise player designation - at nearly $38 million.
Polian, now an analyst for SiriusXM NFL Radio, notes that the higher-end players rarely reach total freedom.
''The `A' players don't get to free agency,'' he says. ''So what is out there on the market, even in this untoward year, are going to be 'B' players looking for `A' players' money.''
Others positions and who could wind up tagged:
Aaron Jones, Packers - Tagging runners sometimes seems wise because long-term contracts at such a punishingly physical position aren't attractive for teams. Jones is a very attractive guy for the Packers because of his versatility, production, age (26) and strong relationship with MVP Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay doesn't have much cap room, though, and the franchise tag will be approximately $11 million.
Kenny Golladay, Lions - The $15.81 million cost as of now isn't prohibitive for this team. Golladay is a genuine No. 1 wideout and would get plenty of attention on the open market. New QB Jared Goff had a talented group of targets in Los Angeles and sure could benefit from Golladay sticking around.
Allen Robinson, Bears - When healthy, Robinson is a stud. Like Golladay, he would be coveted as a free agent, and he's in his prime at 27. The uncertain quarterback situation in Chicago makes it likely Robinson leaves if he doesn't get tagged.
Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon, Ravens - A pair of solid, sometimes dynamic defenders, and one of them probably will leave. Judon was tagged in 2020, so he would be due at least $20 million for next season.
Leonard Williams, Giants - The 2015 first-round pick by the Jets has found a home and his game with the other New York team. The Giants have professed their strong desire to keep Williams. Coming off his best year, he could get tagged a second straight time.
Haason Reddick, Cardinals - This is a difficult one because Reddick was mediocre in his previous seasons before being moved outside and flourishing. Was it an aberration or is Reddick the real thing for Arizona? Paying him about $14.5 million for one season to find out might be worth it.
LB Bud Dupree, Steelers - Pittsburgh's tag went to Dupree last year and he would cost $19 million in '21 for a team so cash strapped it is pondering not bringing back Ben Roethlisberger for one more season. Dupree figures to move on.
Tennessee Titans impending free-agent TE Jonnu Smith ranks fourth among tight ends with an average of 7.1 yards after catch over the last three seasons.
Fantasy Spin: Smith has the athleticism to be a matchup problem for opposing defenses, but he has never been in a high-volume role. He has TE1 upside depending on where he plays in 2021.
The Baltimore Ravens have agreed to re-sign DT Justin Ellis to a one-year deal worth $1.2 million with $400,000 guaranteed, according to a source.
Miami Dolphins impending free-agent DT Davon Godchaux would like to re-sign with the Dolphins this offseason, but agent Drew Rosenhaus said he is not sure if the Dolphins will be to offer what Godchaux will be looking for in free agency.
Seattle Seahawks WR Josh Gordon was released Thursday, March 4.
Denver Broncos general manager George Paton said the team plans to tender impending free-agent running back Phillip Lindsay a contract, but they aren't sure at what capacity yet. An original-round tender for Lindsay would allow the Broncos to match any offer he receives, but it wouldn't bring anything in return. A second-round tender, estimated at $3.4 million, could scare interested teams away or give Denver a high pick in return if Lindsay signs elsewhere. The 26-year-old was a surprise Pro Bowler in his rookie season after going undrafted and he managed 1,000 yards rushing in his first two years, but he took a major step back in 2020. Not only was Lindsay playing second fiddle to Melvin Gordon III, but he dealt with nagging injuries all season that limited him to 11 games. If he stays in Denver, he'll be a weak RB3/flex as a Gordon handcuff.
Updating a previous report, free-agent DE Stephen Weatherly (Panthers) agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings Thursday, March 4, worth $2.5 million. The deal can be worth as much as $3 million with incentives.
Denver Broncos impending free-agent DT Shelby Harris will be a priority for the Broncos this offseason, according to general manager George Paton.
Denver Broncos impending free-agent S Justin Simmons' agent has had contract talks with the Broncos, and general manager George Paton said the goal is to sign Simmons to a long-term contract this offseason.
Updating a previous report, Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger signed a restructured contract Thursday, March 4. He agreed to reduce his pay to $14 million from $19 million in the final year of his contract and spread the cash payment through 2022, per source. The moves lowered his cap hit to $15 million in 2021, giving the team more flexibility.
The Pittsburgh Steelers officially signed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a new contract for the 2021 season on Thursday. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Roethlisberger willingly reduced his pay to $14 million from $19 million in the final year of his deal, spreading his cash payment through 2022, according to a source. The move lowered Pittsburgh's salary cap hit by over $15 million, allowing them to make other moves to remain as competitive as possible. Big Ben was initially set for an exorbitant cap hit of $41.25 million. The 39-year-old will have one more shot at a championship and will likely retire after the 2021 season. Pittsburgh's offense could lose wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster this offseason and Roethlisberger is pretty injury prone, so he'll mostly be targeted as a fantasy backup as he heads into what will likely be his final NFL season.
Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald could return for an 18th season with the team, but head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Thursday, March 4, that the wide receiver's status remains a mystery. 'I don't know anything,' Kingsbury said in a news conference, adding it's been honor to work with Fitzgerald and hopes he plays five more years.
Fantasy Spin: Once an annual locked-in WR2, Fitz hit career season lows across the board last season at age 37 with 54 grabs for 409 yards and one TD and is off the fantasy radar outside of deeper leagues if he does play in 2021.
Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is not being 'shopped,' according to a source Thursday, March 4, but calls from other teams interested in trading for Wilson have been answered.
Fantasy Spin: Translation: The Seahawks have every intention of sticking with Wilson unless they're absolutely blown away by an offer. Then it would be a matter of Wilson approving the deal as well. It remains an ongoing offseason hot topic, but it's most likely Wilson and his QB1 talents remain in the Pacific Northwest.
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger on Thursday, March 4, signed a restructured contract with the team and will return for an 18th season. Terms of the new deal were not immediately available. 'We are excited we were able to come to an agreement with Ben Roethlisberger on a new contract for him to return to the Steelers in 2021,' general manager Kevin Colbert said in a story posted on the team's website. 'We know that Ben can still play at a high level and do special things for this team. Our goal remains the same - to put together a roster that will compete for another championship. We are happy that Ben will be one of our leaders to help us accomplish that goal.'
Fantasy Spin: Roethlisberger's return boosts the fantasy value of the team's pass-catchers, but Big Ben's own fantasy value at age 39 is now in the mid-QB2 range.
Detroit Lions CB Desmond Trufant on Thursday, March 4, was informed by the team that he will be released at the start of the new league year later this month, per a source.
Chicago Bears WR Allen Robinson has totaled 131 receptions resulting in first downs since the start of the 2019 season, third most in the league according to Pro Football Focus data.
Fantasy Spin: Robinson's 12.4 yards-per-catch average in Chicago (three seasons) has dipped from his 14.1 average from his four seasons in Jacksonville, but he's caught 53 more passes in one fewer season with the Bears. The bottom line is that Robinson possesses one of the league's strongest all-around WR skill-sets and is a legit fantasy WR1 if he can finally get better QB play.
Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce leads the league with 145 receptions resulting in first downs since 2019, according to Pro Football Focus data.
Fantasy Spin: Kelce is fantasy gold. He has been a top-two fantasy tight end in each of the last five seasons and shows no signs of slowing down. He's a legit top-25 pick as the first non-RB or WR off the board in drafts.
Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who shares the same agent as Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, said on the Huddle and Flow podcast that, "I highly doubt (Deshaun Watson) will suit up in a Texans uniform again. He's extremely serious." The Texans and Watson are in a standoff, with Houston saying they will not trade the 25-year-old signal-caller. But Watson remains steadfast in his trade demands and wants out of Houston. Eventually, something has to give. If this continues to play out, the Texans may have no choice but to find the best available offer for the star quarterback. Watson was still a top-five fantasy QB without All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins in 2020, so he should be drafted as an elite quarterback again in 2021. A trade out of Houston could make him even more attractive.
The New Orleans Saints restructured kicker Wil Lutz's contract on Thursday to create $1.74 million in salary cap space, according to a source. New Orleans continues to maneuver around the lowered 2021 salary cap, but they still have plenty of work left to do as the new league year approaches on March 17. The 26-year-old kicker made 23 of his 28 field-goal tries in 2020 and also was successful on 57 of his 58 extra points last season. The Saints offense should be pretty solid under either Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston in 2021, which should at least make Lutz a low-end fantasy kicking option. Lutz finished as the No. 9 fantasy kicker in most leagues in 2020.
Free-agent DE Stephen Weatherly (Panthers) agreed to an undisclosed deal with the Minnesota Vikings Thursday, March 4.
Free-agent LB Thomas Davis (Football Team) will sign a one-day contract with the Carolina Panthers March 11 to retire with the team.