Agent recommendation: Deadline looms for four remaining designated franchise players to sign long-term deal

The clock is ticking for teams to sign franchise players to long-term contracts. The deadline for franchise players to sign multi-year contracts is July 15 at 4:00 PM ET. Once the deadline has passed, franchise-tagged players are prohibited from signing long-term deals until the end of the regular season on January 8, 2023.

Eight players were awarded franchise players this year. Four have already signed long-term contracts. The two franchise wide receivers quickly agreed to deals after the 2022 league year began on March 16. The Buccaneers gave Chris Godwin a three-year, $60 million deal with $40 million fully guaranteed even though he tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee late in the 2021 regular season.

The Raiders acquired 2022 first- and second-round pick Davante Adams from the Packers in a sign-and-trade deal. Adams signed a five-year, $140 million contract with $65.67 million in guarantees. Adams’ maximum contract value is $141.25 million due to a $250,000 annual Pro Bowl incentive. Adams’ deal is really $67.5 million over three years because he has $72.5 million over the last two years. The odds of Adams playing in 2025 and 2026 for $36.25 million each when he’s 32 and 33 are remote.

The Jaguars signed left tackle Cam Robinson to a three-year, $52.75 million contract with $33 million fully guaranteed. The deal is worth $54.25 million with incentives.

The Browns made David Njoku the fifth highest paid tight end in the NFL with an average annual salary of $13,687,500 per year. Njoku’s four-year, $54.75 million contract has $28 million guaranteed. The maximum value of the deal is $56.75 million, thanks to $500,000 in annual incentives based on All-Pro selections.

Here’s a look at the situations of the four franchise players who haven’t signed long-term.

There was little doubt that the Chiefs would franchise Brown for $16.662 million. The Chiefs couldn’t risk Brown potentially being loaned out for one year by becoming a free agent given the capital required to acquire him from the Ravens just before the 2021 NFL Draft.

Brown forced a trade because he wanted to be a left fielder, which wasn’t possible in Baltimore because of All-Pro Ronnie Stanley. The Chiefs gave up their 2021 first-round pick (31st overall), a 2021 third-round pick, a 2022 fourth-round pick and a 2022 fifth-round pick to the Ravens for Brown, a pick from second round in 2021 and sixth from 2022 round pick.

Brown cemented his switch from right to left with a Pro Bowl selection last season. The Chiefs will likely join the ranks of teams paying a premium financially when a long-term deal for a player who had time remaining on his contract is not done in a trade involving significant draft capital.

Brown, who recently hired Delta Sports Group’s Michael Portner as his new agent, expressed optimism about his signing. Any long-term deal would certainly put Brown in the $20 million-a-year offensive linemen’s club, which currently has three members. Left tackles Trent Williams, David Bakhtiari and Laremy Tunsil have deals with the 49ers, Packers and Texans averaging $23.01 million, $23 million and $22 million per year, respectively.

Bates reportedly has no intention of playing under his $12.911 million franchise. Waiting out the season if a long-term agreement is not reached by July 15 would be surprising. The franchise is more than double what Bates made from his four-year rookie contract, which expires after the 2021 season. Bates’ career earnings to date from his NFL player contract are just over $6.225 million.

It’s rare for franchise players to miss a season. The last time that happened before Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell in 2018 was with Chiefs linebacker Dan Williams in 1998.

The Bengals are likely looking at the $14 million a year that Marcus Williams, who was designated a franchise player by the Saints in 2021, received from the Ravens in a five-year free agency deal this year as an indication of Bates’ value. Bates likely sought a deal in the same neighborhood as Jamal Adams, who reshaped the safety market with a four-year, $70 million contract extension averaging $17.5 million per year and worth up to $72 million through incentives and salary escalators from the Seahawks last August.

This was before recent developments in the safety market. The Steelers making Minkah Fitzpatrick the league’s highest-paid safety on a four-year extension, averaging $18.247 million per year with $36 million fully guaranteed, only complicates matters.

Schultz quickly signed his $10.931 million offer after the Cowboys made him a franchise player in March. Frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations for a new contract, Schultz missed the last part of organized team activities. He avoided a $95,877 fine by reporting to mandatory minicamp in June.

The Cowboys can’t be happy with the Njoku deal. Njoku’s $13,687,500 average per year should serve as Schultz’s salary threshold, especially since Njoku doesn’t measure up to him statistically.

Schultz had a career year in 2021 with 78 catches, 808 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. He was more productive last season in 17 games than Njoku was in the last two seasons combined in the 29 games he played. Njoku caught 55 passes for 688 yards with six touchdowns. Schultz had 23 more receptions, 120 more receiving yards and two more touchdown catches than Njoku.

Schultz and the Cowboys are reportedly nowhere close to reaching a deal. Playing a franchise tag game isn’t the most economical move for the Cowboys. The last two times Dallas had someone play a season under franchise, it cost them more to sign the players long term. The same concept will likely apply to Schultz with a productive season in 2022.

The Cowboys definitely wouldn’t have had to sign quarterback DeMarcus Lawrence to a five-year, $105 million, $21 million per year contract if the deal had gone through in 2018. At the July 15 long-term deal deadline, the $20 million per year non- quarterback didn’t exist.

Dak Prescott is not signing a $40 million contract in March 2021 with an agreement reached in July 2020. There’s a good chance Prescott’s deal was below the $35 million per year extension Russell Wilson signed with the Seahawks in 2019 Deshaun Watson didn’t get his $39 million-a-year extension from the Texans, which seemed to be an important data point for Prescott, until just before the start of the 2020 regular season.

All is quiet on the Gesicki contract front. Unless something changes, Gesicki will play under the $10.931 million franchise he signed in March.

Like the Cowboys and Schultz, the Browns did the Dolphins no favors with Njoku’s contract. Gesicki’s production in 2021 was also better than Njoku’s the past two seasons. His 73 catches and 780 receiving yards, both career highs, were 18 more and 92 more than Njoku, respectively.

There’s a potential dynamic with Gesicki that doesn’t exist with Schultz. Gesicki could follow in Jimmy Graham’s footsteps and file an appeal to be classified as a wide receiver instead of a tight end with his franchise player designation. The difference in the two tags is $7.488 million, as the 2022 wide receiver number is $18.419 million.

Under the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, franchise tags are determined by the position at which a player played in the most games during the previous season. According to Pro Football Focus, 54.78 percent of Gesicki’s 827 offensive snaps in 2021 were in the slot, 11.97 percent were as a tight end in the line and 30.74 percent were on the outside.

Graham lost his appeal in 2014. Referee Steven Burbank ruled that Graham was a tight end when lined up in the slot within 4 yards of an offensive lineman, which he did on more than 50 percent of his plays with the Saints in 2013

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