The NFL must abolish the franchise to allow players to test free agency in the prime of their careers

August 10, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) and owner Jerry Jones (right) before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL needs to get rid of the franchise tag. Players have no way of avoiding it, and they lose money if they and the team can’t reach a long-term contract. So many players miss the chance of getting paid in the prime of their careers, and this off-season is no exception.

Here is how the NFL franchise tag began

Jan 31, 1999; Miami, FL, USA; FILE PHOTO; John Elway of the Denver Broncos in action against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII at Joe Robbie Stadium. Elway in his last game, passed for 336 yards and ran for a touchdown earning him most valuable player honors. The Broncos won the game 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Photo By USA TODAY Sports
RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

The franchise tag became a thing in 1992.  The Denver Broncos were struggling trying to sign quarterback John Elway to a new deal. As a result, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen argued for a new rule that would give the Broncos more time to negotiate a deal.

Elway and the Broncos did agree to a new contract that following year, making him the highest-paid player in the NFL. However, most players haven’t been that fortunate.

The Le’Veon Bell effect

Jan 14, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) carries the ball past Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson (97) during the second half in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Le’Veon Bell got the worst of the franchise tag during his time in Pittsburgh. He received the tag in 2017 and 2018 but held out after receiving it a second time. Bell could have set a new bar for the running back position. However, he never got the chance to enter free agency in the prime of his career.

The one bright spot of Bell’s experience with the franchise tag is that players now know the power they possess. Bell sat out all of 2018 and missed out on a nice contract. As a result, he was able to test free agency finally and secure a long-term deal.

There are cases where the player wants to stay with his team, and both parties can reach a long-term deal. For example, Justin Simmons is now the NFL’s highest-paid safety. The same thing applies to quarterback Dak Prescott. 

Prescott went from getting screwed by the tag to becoming one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL. Prescott was tagged in 2020 and then went down with a season-ending injury after playing the best football of his career. Finally, however, the Cowboys gave him the deal he deserved, and he won’t have to deal with the franchise tag anytime soon.

On the other hand, many players miss out on real money in free agents because their current teams won’t commit to them. It looks like Marcus Maye, Marcus Williams, Chris Godwin, and Allen Robinson will all play on the tag in 2021. The NFL needs to abolish the franchise tag and let these players get paid while in the prime of their careers.

These are some big names that will generate big interest when they finally get to test the market. So let’s take a look at some possible destinations for each player if they get that opportunity next season.

Marcus Maye

New York Jets safety Marcus Maye (20) celebrates after the Jets defeat the Cleveland Browns, 23-16, at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in East Rutherford. Nyj Vs Cle
Danielle Parhizkaran/ via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Marcus Maye is coming off of the best season of his career. Maye had a career-high in tackles, sacks, forced fumbles, and tied his career-high in interceptions. However, it isn’t looking like Maye and the Jets will reach a deal anytime soon.

With the franchise tag, Maye is going to make a little over 10 million in 2021. However, the Jets offered Maye a contract 20 percent less than the franchise tag value. That would be around eight million per year. Maye is coming off of a career year and deserves the chance to get a fair contract.

Contract disputes are the reason safety Jamal Adams requested a trade last off-season.

A lot of teams would love the chance to pursue and sign a player of Maye’s caliber. If Maye has another solid year and gets the chance to enter free agency, numerous teams should show interest. Maye is a prime example of why the NFL should get rid of the franchise tag.

Teams like Miami and Arizona would be good fits for Maye. Maye shines wherever he is on the field, so he’ll have no problem adjusting to wherever he has to play. In addition, Maye and Budda Baker will create one of the best safety duos in the league if he lands in Arizona.

Marcus Williams

Sep 29, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints free safety Marcus Williams (43) makes a game ending interception against the Dallas Cowboys in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Williams is young and possesses a lot of talent. Unfortunately, people only seem to know Williams for his missed tackle in the 2017 playoffs. Regardless of that one play, Williams has proved to be one of the more talented safeties in the league.

The Saints are in a weird situation when it comes to cap space. The team doesn’t have a ton of money and needs to try and extend other players from their 2017 draft class. As a result, Williams is playing under the franchise tag in 2021 and has a real chance of hitting free agency in 2022.

The Cowboys should hope Williams is a free agent next season. Dallas needs help in the secondary, and Williams fits their scheme nicely. In addition, Williams will be the perfect pairing for a guy like Keanu Neal, who the Cowboys signed this off-season.

Williams has excellent range and big-play ability, whereas Neal thrives closer to the line of scrimmage.

Chris Godwin

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin (14) hauls in a long reception as Green Bay Packers free safety Darnell Savage (26) defends during the 2nd quarter of the Green Bay Packers game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC championship playoff game Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Packers Packers25 Mjd 07431
Mike De Sisti / The Milwaukee Jo via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Chris Godwin is one of the better receivers in the NFL. He battled injuries last season but still produced over 800 receiving yards. However, Godwin and the Buccaneers failed to reach a new deal, and he will play under the tag in 2021.

Godwin wants to stay in Tampa Bay and win another Super Bowl. However, the team has a ton of talent, and it will be tough to keep a group like this around for multiple seasons. Godwin is also in the prime of his career. He is 25-years-old and could be the number one receiver on a handful of teams. However, Tampa Bay could keep tagging him, and Godwin could miss out on a big payday.

Teams are always trying to improve on the offensive side of the ball, so if Godwin gets to test free agency, plenty of teams will be calling. I see the Ravens showing interest in Godwin. They have a huge need for a receiver, and that’s something they need to address if they want to take that next step as a franchise.

Another team I expect to show interest in Godwin is the Green Bay Packers. If Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams aren’t in Green Bay much longer, I could see them making a run at Godwin to be their receiver of the future. Even if Rodgers decides to stay, a pairing of Adams and Godwin will be tough for any opposing defense.

Allen Robinson

Jun 16, 2021; Lake Forest, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears Allen Robinson II (12) in action during minicamp at Halas Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Allen Robinson is in a fascinating situation. The Bears and Robinson have been trying to negotiate a contract for a while now. However, a deal hasn’t been made, and Robinson doesn’t want to miss out on a payday because the Bears can’t commit to him.

Robinson is the most talented offensive player on the Bears, so they want to make sure they don’t lose him. In addition, he’s put up big numbers with subpar play at the quarterback position. Plenty of teams will show interest in Robinson if he fails to reach a deal with Chicago. I see the Ravens being interested in him as well. However, I see other teams with a higher chance of signing Robinson.

Las Vegas seems like a realistic option for Robinson. He would be the number one receiver and have a much better supporting cast than Chicago. In addition, the Raiders already have a solid running game and could solidify the passing game by signing Allen Robinson to a long-term deal. Another team I picture making a run at Robinson is the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are so close to being serious contenders.

Robinson could be the missing piece. All of these players deserve the chance to test free agency and earn a nice contract. However, none of them are getting the opportunity to. The NFL needs to get rid of the franchise tag and let players write their own narrative. It’s not their fault these teams fail to commit to them and reward them for their play on the field.

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