The first side effects of the most uncertain free agency cycle in NFL history are here.
Fourteen would-be free agents were tagged by their teams between Saturday and Monday and another was transition tagged. The total of 15 tags is up from six last offseason and the most given out since 21 tags in 2012.
With the twice-delayed NFL Players Association vote on the collective bargaining agreement ending Saturday night and changing the rules for this offseason, and with only one second of planning time between the twice-delayed end of the franchise tag window and the start of free agency at noon Monday, it fed into chaos and concern.
The Vikings (safety Anthony Harris), Patriots (guard Joe Thuney) and Cardinals (running back Kenyan Drake) all unexpectedly used their tags. Many of the top pass-rushers came off the board: Shaq Barrett (Buccaneers), Matthew Judon (Ravens), Bud Dupree (Steelers) and Chris Jones (Chiefs).
With a suddenly limited defensive line market, the Giants were nudged to tag Leonard Williams, and the prices for the available pass-rushers like Jadeveon Clowney and Dante Fowler increased even further in a short-supply and heavy-demand market.
The rush to use tags suggests NFL teams are wary of the prices free agents will command, especially with so many teams flush with cap space.
Fifteen teams – nearly half the league – entered what is known as the legal tampering period with at least $40 million in cap space, including eight with more than $50 million, according to OverTheCap.com.
Each team can tag one player and retains the right to match any other offer the player receives in free agency. Salaries are determined on a position-by-position basis.
The franchise tag comes with desirable compensation of two first-round draft picks for letting a tagged player sign elsewhere. The transition tag, which pays smaller contracts, offers no compensation for the original team not matching a free-agent offer.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott received the extremely rare exclusive franchise tag, which means he cannot negotiate with other teams at all.
The Cowboys deemed two first-round picks not enough for potentially losing their 26-year-old starter, who will make $33 million on a one-year deal if the sides don’t reach an agreement on a long-term extension. Negotiations have moved slowly over the last year.