Even if the Browns don't exercise a franchise tag on a player for a sixth consecutive year, the decisions made around the league could have a direct effect on the team's plans in free agency and beyond.
Starting Tuesday, teams can place the tag on one of its eligible free agents, which binds the player to the team for one more season. The pay is commensurate with the average of the top five players at the position or 120 percent of the player's previous salary, whichever is higher. The deadline to do so is March 6, and free agency officially begins at the start of the new league year March 14.
Seven players received a franchise tag last season.
We're examining the three biggest storylines that loom one day before teams can officially place those tags on eligible players.
1. Jaguars, Rams have tough decisions with talented WRs
- One of the league's top receivers in 2015, Allen Robinson is an interesting case because of a knee injury that ended his 2017 season just as it was getting started. The former Penn State star caught one pass for 17 yards before going down with the injury in Jacksonville's season opener. In the previous two seasons, Robinson caught a combined 153 passes for 2,283 yards and 20 touchdowns. At 6-foot-3 and 211 pounds, Robinson has prototypical size and speed when healthy. If he's not tagged, he could be one of the top pursued players at his position. NFL.com ranks Robinson as the sixth-best projected free agent.
Rams wide receiver Sammy Watkins remained healthy throughout 2017 but was never a focal point in the Rams' offense. He finished with 39 receptions for 593 yards and eight touchdowns in his first year in Los Angeles. His first two seasons in Buffalo were his best, when he amassed 125 receptions for more than 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. He's ranked 11th overall by NFL.com. If both hit free agency, they'd join one of the most intriguing position groups that is also expected to include Miami's Jarvis Landry.
2. DB market rounding into form
- After missing the 2016 season with a knee injury, Chicago cornerback Kyle Fuller came back and logged one of his best NFL seasons. The former first-round pick had a whopping 22 passes defensed and recorded two interceptions, the last of which came against the Browns on Christmas Eve. Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner, meanwhile, was a rock at the back end of his defense and is under consideration for the tag, according to ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez. He'd be one of the best available safeties if he enters the free agent market. Young, up-and-coming defensive backs can command big deals when they hit free agency. Last year, A.J. Bouye got a big deal to sign with Jacksonville, where he made a significant impact on one of the league's best defenses. This pair could receive similar offers if they're available to 31 other teams.
3. Vikings QBs
- Minnesota has not one, not two, but three quarterbacks set for free agency. Veteran Sam Bradford, who was one of the NFL's most accurate passers in 2016, is coming off an injury-plagued year in which he appeared in just two games. Teddy Bridgewater, who was once viewed as the future of the franchise, hasn't played significant snaps since suffering a devastating knee injury two years ago. Case Keenum, who bounced around the NFL for years, emerged as one of the league's most consistent quarterbacks in 2017 and led the Vikings to a division crown and NFC Championship game appearance. The Vikings can only franchise one, of course, and even that isn't a guarantee. The NFL is hungry for consistent quarterback play, and all three would get heavy consideration from multiple suitors if/when they hit the market.