Washington’s big decision, plus Atlanta’s star QB focus

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Good morning. Franchise tags, free agency, the combine, mock drafts, trades, contract extensions, fantasy football rankings, the draft … the NFL “offseason” needs a new name. A lot to unpack today.

  • 🏷 Franchise tags for eight players
  • 👀 Saquon Barkley landing spots
  • 🏁 Kirk Cousins in Atlanta?
  • 🎞 Draft: Maye or Daniels

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The Tags Are Out: Pittman, Allen on one-year deals … for now

You’re at work, and it’s time for your contract renewal. They offer a novel option: a one-year, guaranteed contract paying you either the average of your five highest-paid colleagues or 120 percent of your 2023 salary. You take it. No brainer.

It’s a bit different in the NFL, where instead of bumping into Ray from accounting, you run into Ray Lewis. Careers are much shorter.

Enter the controversial franchise tag. Once dubbed the “Elway rule,” it was introduced alongside free agency in 1993 as a concession to owners who wanted to reduce turnover among star players (typically quarterbacks like John Elway). Teams retain one franchise player on a one-year, guaranteed and non-negotiable contract. Refusal to sign means an unpaid season. Just ask Le’Veon Bell.

This year, we saw eight players franchise-tagged (and one transition-tagged, a similar deal with a slightly lower salary but no draft compensation if the player signs elsewhere):

Colts WR Michael Pittman (2024 salary of ~$21.8 million, age 26): Non-exclusive tag, allowing the Colts to match any offer Pittman negotiates with other teams or let him go in return for two first-round picks. Expect Pittman to stay in Indianapolis. No player with a non-exclusive tag has switched teams since 2000.

Jaguars LB Josh Allen (~$24 million, 27): Tied for second in the NFL in total sacks (17.5) and fifth in total pressures (90). The Jaguars were smart to extend the negotiation window with this star.

Patriots S Kyle Dugger (~$13.8 million, 27): The league’s first usage of the transition tag since 2020. Last season, the former second-rounder started all 17 games, intercepted two passes and logged a career-high 109 tackles.

Other players tagged yesterday:

Chiefs CB L’Jarius Sneed and Bengals WR Tee Higgins were previously tagged. Teams now have until July 15 to sign contract extensions with these players before they are locked into those one-year deals.

National NFL insider Jeff Howe has the winners and losers after franchise tag deadline day, a list which includes Saquon Barkley as a winner.

Where could Saquon land?

Just as important: the players who were not tagged, including Barkley, Giants FS Xavier McKinney and Dolphins DT Christian Wilkins, who will all enter free agency for the first time in their careers.

Fun landing spots for Saquon: Bears, Cowboys, Texans or Chargers. Giants reporter Dan Duggan notes that the Giants letting Saquon test free agency is the best outcome for both sides. A reunion in New York is possible.

Speaking of free agents, Dianna: Any update on Kirk Cousins?

What Dianna’s Hearing: Falcons locking in on their QB

The dominos are about to move. All we’re waiting for is Cousins’ decision to stay in Minnesota or enter free agency next week.

I told you on Monday that the Falcons are a team to watch, and while they can’t (legally) communicate with the quarterback, members of their staff have suggested to those around the league that they are zoned in on landing the 35-year-old Cousins.

If the Falcons miss on Cousins, they may look to Baker Mayfield, if Tampa can’t reach an agreement with him after his outstanding season. When I last checked in with sources, Mayfield and the Bucs were working hard to strike a deal, especially after they locked up WR Mike Evans.

Watching Film: Who goes No. 2 in the draft?

Rewind to 2012. Google’s top trending athletes were Jeremy Lin and Michael Phelps. “Gangnam Style” was blaring from wired headphones, and Washington held the second overall pick in the NFL Draft.

They just missed on a “generational prospect,” Andrew Luck, instead drafting then-obvious No. 2 Robert Griffin III (who bested Luck for offensive rookie of the year but struggled to stay healthy/played for Washington).

This year, Washington is again one pick short; Caleb Williams is believed by some to be the best prospect since Luck. The Commanders pick second.

Thankfully — for them, and for us —  Ted Nguyen published his film review comparing Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels, the quarterbacks projected to go No. 2 and 3 in Dane Brugler’s most recent mock draft.

Jayden Daniels, 23, is two years older than Maye. He had an impressive 2023, winning the Heisman. He also has question marks. For one, he often looks to run instead of progressing through his reads. Since 2019, his scrambling rate (14.1 percent) ranks third among 196 qualifying quarterbacks. Still, you can’t fault Daniels too much after he averaged 8.4 yards per carry.

Read the full article to learn why Ted is leaning Maye after watching the film.

Around the NFL: Mock drafts and TE shuffles

NFL GMs and executives mocked the 2024 draft’s top 10 picks. Mike Sando compiled and sorted the takeaways, which included five of six execs expecting Washington to draft Daniels.

Steelers RB Najee Harris would cost the team $6.8 million in 2025 if they pick up his fifth-year option. They have until May 2 to decide, and team reporter Mike DeFabo notes that new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith will have a say.

Texans TE Dalton Schultz returns on a three year contract worth up to $36 million. The 27-year-old saw the team’s second-most targets (88) after signing a one-year deal in 2023.

The Patriots’ priority in free agency is landing a difference-making wide receiver. Team reporter Chad Graff explains why the team may have to overpay.

The Packers own five of the first 91 picks thanks to the Aaron Rodgers and Rasul Douglas trades. One of those may be used on a quarterback, projects Packers reporter Matt Schneidman in his seven-round mock draft.

Jacob’s Picks

📕 Shane Steichen’s obsessive approach helped revive a Colts season that could have derailed after Anthony Richardson went down. James Boyd offers a detailed look into the meticulous mind of the 38-year-old head coach. (The Athletic)

📺 The top 100 plays of last season. Still can’t believe Courtland Sutton made that catch. (YouTube)

🎙Takeaways from the franchisetags, Dane Brugler’s latest mock draft and more in today’s episode of The Athletic Football Show. Interesting discussion around the transition tag at the 53-minute mark. (SpotifyApple)

Now, check your local tennis court for a rehabbing Kirk Cousins.

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(Photo: Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

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