Oct 22, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA;  Chicago Bears defensive back Jaylon Johnson (33) steps in front of Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams (17) to intercept a pass before returning the ball for a touchdown in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Reports: Bears sign tagged CB Jaylon Johnson to $76M deal

Two days after the Bears used the franchise tag to keep him, cornerback Jaylon Johnson secured a $76 million deal to stay in Chicago, according to reports Thursday.

Once the signing is official, Johnson, 24, would become one of the highest-paid players at the position on a deal that would average $19 million per year and reportedly includes $54.4 million guaranteed.

The 2024 franchise tag would’ve guaranteed Johnson a one-year salary of $19.8 million. But general manager Ryan Poles said at the NFL Scouting Combine he felt the sides were extremely close to a long-term deal.

“I think there is really good space for us to find the middle ground. Again, we always have the tag to use, but I really would like to get something done long term,” Poles said in Indianapolis.

A second-round pick in 2020, Johnson was the highest-rated cornerback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus in 2023, allowing a passer rating of 33.3 in more than 500 coverage snaps.

Talks that began more than a year ago included some acrimony.

Chicago’s track record of not setting the market rate at a position even when re-signing its own free agents led to trades in similar situations. When linebacker Roquan Smith demanded $20 million per year, the Bears blinked and traded him to the Baltimore Ravens.

Johnson and the Bears had been at odds since the trade deadline in October, when Poles granted the lockdown cornerback permission to seek a trade. Johnson was hoping for a new deal at the time but said ongoing talks were progressing “slower than expected.”

“At the end of the day, it goes back to respect as well,” Johnson said after the trade deadline passed last season. “You can throw some numbers at someone and hope they take anything. That’s not what I’m looking to do. I’m looking for respect and security.”

Only two cornerbacks average a salary higher than the franchise tender rate: Jaire Alexander of the Packers averages $21 million and Denzel Ward of the Browns is at $20.1 million.

Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed was designated the franchise player of the Chiefs.

–Field Level Media

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (11) runs out of bounds as Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Brandon Facyson (31) rolls at his feet Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, during a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Colts tag WR Michael Pittman Jr.

The Indianapolis Colts placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. on Tuesday ahead of the NFL deadline.

Pittman Jr. will be paid $21.82 million for the 2024 season if he doesn’t sign a long-term contract extension before July 17.

Using the non-exclusive tag blocks Pittman’s exit to free agency but permits him to discuss a contract with other teams. If Pittman signs an offer sheet, the Colts are granted refusal rights and could match the deal to retain their leading receiver. Not matching the deal would net the Colts two first-round picks in return.

General manager Chris Ballard spelled out the need for the Colts to keep Pittman when discussing free agency last week at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Pittman had a team-best 109 receptions, 1,152 yards and four TD catches in 2023. He has 336 receptions for 3,662 yards and 15 touchdowns in four seasons with the Colts.

–Field Level Media

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) is shown with the ball against the Jets. The Giants' star running back is on the verge of hitting free agency and there is plenty of debate over his uncertain future with Big Blue.

No tag for Giants RB Saquon Barkley

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley appears headed for free agency for the first time in his NFL career, avoiding the franchise tag ahead of Tuesday’s deadline to apply the restrictive roster marker.

General manager Joe Schoen said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine the Giants weren’t taking the tag off the table, but the team opted against tagging Barkley for a second straight year because of a cost of $12.1 million, according to multiple reports.

“We don’t want to do it. In a perfect world, we don’t want to do that again,” Schoen said.

The free agent market might not produce a massive payday based on the apparent devaluation of the running back position. The unrestricted free agent market at running back includes Josh Jacobs (Las Vegas Raiders) and Tony Pollard (Dallas Cowboys), who were also tagged in 2023, plus Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans) and Austin Ekeler (Los Angeles Chargers).

Being tagged in 2023 irked Barkley, 27, who since made it clear he felt the Giants were disloyal by not making a long-term commitment. After totaling a career-high 1,312 rushing yards in 16 games in 2022, Barkley settled for an adjusted one-year tender offer for the 2023 season. But he skipped voluntary exit interviews with head coach Brian Daboll under an “open door” policy and said he was “numb” to the business side of the NFL.

Schoen said last week the Giants met with Barkley’s new agent during the combine and expressed optimism about coming to an agreement with the two-time Pro Bowl selection.

“I think we’ve all grown — Saquon, myself, the organization, through the last 12, 13, 14 months,” Schoen said, noting that Barkley’s new agent, Ed Berry, is someone with whom they have a “really good” relationship. “Saquon may be in a different place now than he was then in terms of understanding the market and the business side of it. I’m looking forward to having those conversations with him.”

Drafted by the Giants with the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Barkley started all 14 games he played in last season, rushing for 962 yards and six touchdowns. He also caught 41 passes for 280 yards and four scores.

In six seasons with the Giants, Barkley has rushed for 5,211 yards and 35 touchdowns on 1,201 carries in 74 games (all starts). He also has 288 receptions for 2,100 yards and 12 touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

Dec 31, 2023; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (11) runs out of bounds as Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Brandon Facyson (31) rolls at his feet during a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Scheer-USA TODAY Sports

What to know as the NFL franchise tag window opens

Unavoidable and detested by most who are eligible, the NFL’s annual tag game begins Tuesday.

All 32 teams are allowed to play the not-so-popular franchise tag game, a roster-building accounting mechanism available to help those clubs retain free agents without the long-term demands and salary cap strain of a multi-year contract with numerous guaranteed elements.

Starting Tuesday and through March 5, teams can use the non-exclusive franchise tag — easily the most common — to promise a one-year salary for 2024 that is set using the value equal to the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position over the last five years.

If tagged with the non-exclusive marker, players who would otherwise be unrestricted free agents can still talk deals with other teams. However, the current team retains refusal rights — meaning it can match any offer a suitor proposes — or opt instead to receive two first-round draft picks as compensation if he signs with another club.

No outside negotiations are allowed for players who are hit with the exclusive franchise tag. That tag also raises the pay for the player in question to a one-year salary equal to the top five salaries at the player’s position for the current year — as opposed to the past five years — or 120 percent of his prior year’s salary, whichever is greater.

A transition tag, which comes with a player salary equal to the average of the top five salaries at the position over the past 10 years, maintains refusal rights for the existing or current team. But if said team declines to match an offer sheet made to that player, they receive no compensation for losing him to a new team.

Teams can use the transition or franchise tags through 4:00 p.m. ET on March 5.

Any player tagged can negotiate toward a long-term contract until July 15.

Players are not required to sign a tender offer as a transition or franchise player and cannot be fined for not participating in offseason workouts.

Failure to sign the tender and report to the team for the regular season can disqualify that player from accruing a season of service and impact eligibility for free agency and other player benefits.

Contract figures reflecting the market value by position showed a stark decline for running backs last season, much to the dismay of tagged Giants running back Saquon Barkley and 2022 NFL rushing leader Josh Jacobs of the Raiders.

Below are the non-exclusive franchise tag values at every position for 2024:

Quarterback: $36,367,000
Running Back: $11,348,000
Linebacker: $22,794,000
Defensive Tackle: $20,986,000
Wide Receiver: $20,714,000
Defensive End: $20,247,000
Offensive Line: $19,925,000
Cornerback: $18,802,000
Safety: $16,258,000
Tight End: $12,151,000
Kicker/Punter: $5,682,000

Here are five candidates to be tagged by their current NFL teams:

1. DE Brian Burns, Panthers
Contract talks went sideways last summer and Burns is on the record stating he wants to be the NFL’s highest-paid pass-rusher. Finding traction in that stratosphere might be challenging after an 8.0-sack season in 2023. With little draft capital, can the Panthers afford to watch him walk?

2. RB Josh Jacobs, Raiders
Backpedaling from the NFL rushing title to 805 yards in 2023 shifts leverage to the Raiders.

3. CB Jaylon Johnson, Bears
Johnson is among the top cover corners in the NFL and wants to be paid like one. The Bears might want to see it one more year before paying up. GM Ryan Pace tipped his hand here with the release of Cody Whitehair and Eddie Jackson.

4. DT Justin Madubuike, Ravens
Baltimore tagged, then re-signed, quarterback Lamar Jackson before he delivered his second MVP season in 2023. Madubuike had a breakout season with 13.0 sacks and 33 QB hits to continue his rise from third-round pick to second-team All-Pro. He’s just 26 years old.

5. WR Michael Pittman Jr, Colts
At $20.7 million for 2024, the Colts get to keep Pittman and pair him with 2023 draft pick Anthony Richardson at quarterback for a full test run. Pittman could be the most coveted free agent receiver available if he’s not tagged.

–Field Level Media

Dec 4, 2022; Baltimore, Maryland, USA;  Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) stands on the field during the first quarter against the Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Ravens EVP: Lamar Jackson talks to go until deadline, will tag if needed

Ozzie Newsome, the Baltimore Ravens’ executive vice president of player personnel, said the team will negotiate with star quarterback Lamar Jackson up until Tuesday’s franchise tag deadline.

If those talks don’t produce a long-term extension, Jackson will be tagged.

“Today and up until about 3:30 tomorrow, a lot of energy is going to be utilized in trying to get the deal done,” Newsome said on “The Bernie Kosar Show” on Monday. “And if not, we will put the franchise tag on him.”

After extensive negotiations with the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player, the Ravens were expected to use the franchise tag on Jackson for the 2023 season. At issue is whether Baltimore would use the exclusive or the non-exclusive tag.

The exclusive franchise tag value at quarterback for 2023 is projected at $45 million, and prevents a player from talking contract with any other team.

The non-exclusive tag, with a $32.4 million salary this season, opens the door to offers from teams while maintaining refusal rights for the Ravens. If Baltimore doesn’t match an offer sheet, Jackson could be traded for two first-round picks.

Jackson, 26, reportedly turned down a five-year deal last September. It would have stretched through the 2027 season, with $133 million guaranteed at signing, per multiple reports.

Jackson has 12,209 yards with 101 passing touchdowns, and 4,437 rushing yards with 24 TDs on the ground in 70 career games since being selected in the first round of the 2018 draft.

–Field Level Media

Jan 16, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) reacts with quarterback Dak Prescott (4) after a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first half during the wild card game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys use franchise tag to retain RB Tony Pollard

Running back Tony Pollard received the franchise tag from the Dallas Cowboys, preventing him from fleeing in free agency with a $10.09 million guarantee for the 2023 season.

The deadline to apply the franchise tag is Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.

Pollard’s 2022 breakout season ended with a bad leg break, but he’s expected to be full strength in time for the mandatory portion of offseason workouts.

Players given the non-exclusive franchise tag can still meet with interested teams. If Pollard receives a contract offer from another team, the Cowboys can choose to match the offer to retain Pollard, or decline to match and accept two first-round picks as trade compensation.

Pollard, 25, ran for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns on 193 carries — all career highs — while splitting time in the Dallas backfield with Ezekiel Elliott in 2022.

Pollard, a fourth-round draft pick in 2019, suffered a high ankle sprain and a fractured fibula late in the first half of the Cowboys’ divisional playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Ten days later he underwent “tightrope” surgery to provide stability to the injured ankle.

His fibula should return to full strength by late March, Pollard said.

A Pro Bowler for the first time, Pollard was replaced by Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook for the Pro Bowl Games.

Dallas has regularly relied on the franchise tag to keep key players, including tight end Dalton Schultz (2022), quarterback Dak Prescott (2020), and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (2018, 2019). Only Lawrence in 2019 reached a long-term deal with the Cowboys before the July deadline to remove the one-year franchise tender and replace it with a multi-year agreement.

The Cowboys addressed using the tag to keep Pollard on the roster last week at the NFL Scouting Combine. Applying the tag Monday allows the Cowboys to negotiate restructuring with Elliott, 28, who could ultimately be released to clear the starting role for Pollard.

Elliott and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones expressed interest in having both players on the roster for the 2023 season.

–Field Level Media

Dec 11, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA;  Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) celebrates with Dallas Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz (86) after scoring a touchdown during the first half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys COO plans to use the franchise tag

Dallas Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones offered a free agency forecast, vowing to use the franchise tag before the March 7 deadline.

The most popular presumption is the Cowboys using the franchise tag to retain running back Tony Pollard, given the one-year salary for tagged running backs would be just over $10 million in 2023.

“We’re not afraid of the tag. End of the day we’ll probably use it again this year,” Jones said at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Key free agents on offense — Pollard and tight end Dalton Schultz — are the likely targets for the tag Jones would consider. Schultz was tagged in 2022, but the Cowboys received strong production from his backups last season. Tagging Schultz at 120 percent of the franchise figure — required when using the franchise marker in consecutive years — would guarantee him $13.1 million in 2023.

The Cowboys have a few variables to consider with Pollard. Ezekiel Elliott is 27 and has a cap charge of $16.7 million, including $10.9 million in base salary. He shared the load at the position with Pollard last season, and Elliott ran for a career-low 876 yards. But Pollard is entering free agency, which officially begins March 15, two months removed from a broken leg sustained in a playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

Jones said adjusting Elliott’s contract is part of the team’s discussions before the tag deadline next Tuesday.

“He’s making a lot of money, and he knows that,” Jones said of Elliott.

The Cowboys also want to keep 32-year-old offensive tackle Tyron Smith, Jones said, and called the challenge of retaining a surplus of talent a good problem to have. For that reason, Dallas knows it will need to use every resource available.

“More than likely we’ll use the franchise tag. Not necessarily on Tony, but (likely) we’ll use it,” Jones said.

–Field Level Media

Oct 24, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Orlando Brown (57) lines up during the first half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Chiefs use franchise tag on LT Orlando Brown

Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown became the first player tagged in the NFL offseason on Monday.

Brown would make approximately $16.5 million on the franchise tag in 2022 if the two sides are unable to work out a long-term deal.

Acquired from the Baltimore Ravens for a first-round pick in the 2021 draft, Brown stabilized the left side of the Kansas City offensive line in a focused overhaul of the Chiefs’ front wall last offseason.

A third-round pick of the Ravens who began his career at right tackle, Brown is a three-time Pro Bowl selection who hiked his value by moving to the left side for the Ravens when Ronnie Stanley (ankle) was lost for the 2020 season.

Tagging Brown shifts the attention of general manager Brett Veach to safety Tyrann Mathieu, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next week.

Mathieu turns 30 in May and said he would love to be back in Kansas City. But he’s also expected to draw significant interest in free agency.

Signed to a three-year, $42 million deal in 2019, Mathieu was an All-Pro pick in his first two seasons in Kansas City.

A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Mathieu has 26 career interceptions and 10 sacks in 129 career games. He has played for the Chiefs, Texans and Arizona Cardinals.

Veach said he met with reps for Mathieu in Indianapolis but painted a wait-and-see picture that implied the Chiefs would let Mathieu entertain other offers while keeping the door open for his return.

Contract talks with Mathieu were complicated when the Minnesota Vikings and 32-year-old Harrison Smith signed a four-year deal worth $16 million per season in 2021.

–Field Level Media