Jets Rumors

Jets Not Expected To Re-Sign T Mekhi Becton; Latest On New York O-Line

FEBRUARY 29: Following up on his previous report, Pauline names the Titans and Falcons as teams to watch on the Becton front. Tennessee struggled up front last season, and at least one tackle addition will no doubt be a top priority for the team. Atlanta does not have a pressing vacancy along the O-line, but Pauline notes the team’s offensive line coach (Dwayne Ledford) worked with Becton in college. A prove-it deal sending him to either team in free agency could be in the cards as a result.

FEBRUARY 28: A January report indicated Mekhi Becton was likely to sign his second contract elsewhere. It now seems all but certain the former first-round pick will not be back with the Jets.

Buzz circulating around Becton for weeks has pointed to the injury-prone tackle signing a one-year deal with another team, Sportskeeda’s Tony Pauline notes. The New York Post’s Brian Costello takes it a step further, indicating Becton and Duane Brown will not be back with the Jets. Brown, 38, played out a two-year, $20MM deal in New York but ran into injury trouble in both seasons.

[RELATED: Jets To Release G Laken Tomlinson]

Becton returned after missing 33 games from 2021-22, beginning the season at right tackle but seeing time on the left side due to other Jets injuries as well. While displaying tremendous confidence in his bounce-back ability last offseason, Becton did not distinguish himself — beyond a slimmed-down physique — in his contract year. Pro Football Focus slotted the 2020 first-rounder 66th among tackles, a downgrade from his last healthy season.

While it seems likely a team will give Becton a second chance — especially on a thin tackle market — the Louisville alum makes sense as a player who will need to prove it on a one-year deal before a big-money contract is considered down the line. Becton is still just 24, though his injury- and weight-related struggles will impact his market.

Elsewhere on Gang Green’s O-line, Costello adds the Jets have not decided on the positions of Alijah Vera-Tucker. The three-year veteran is in line to return as a starter, but Costello offers that the team may not have his position nailed down until after free agency. Drafted to play guard, Vera-Tucker has slid to right tackle in each of the past two seasons due to injuries elsewhere. While the Jets have been intrigued by the prospect of the 2021 first-rounder sticking at RT, Costello adds the team may view the position hopping as part of the reason for his back-to-back season-ending injuries.

With this free agency class far deeper at guard compared to tackle, the Jets targeting an inside starter and keeping Vera-Tucker outside could be the way they go about this. The team had previously viewed Vera-Tucker as a potential Pro Bowl-caliber guard, so it will be interesting to see how it arranges its pieces up front. Clarity from the draft also may be necessary, as the Jets are being linked closely to drafting a tackle in Round 1. By most accounts, they were prepared to do so last year (Broderick Jones) before the Steelers swooped in.

Additional uncertainty may exist regarding Joe Tippmann‘s position, but Costello adds the college center is likely to work in that role despite seeing regular guard duty in 2023. Drafted as the center of the future in last year’s second round, Tippmann deferred to the re-signed Connor McGovern. The latter is due for free agency, clearing a path here.

Rather into former Packers, the Jets will probably consider David Bakhtiari if/once Green Bay releases him. The former All-Pro tackle missed almost all of the 2021 and ’23 seasons due to knee trouble that came out of the New Year’s Eve 2020 ACL tear. A Bakhtiari-Jets partnership — a matter that has been considered since Aaron Rodgers‘ arrival — may only come about, per Costello, if the injury-prone talent accepts he would be in a competition for a job rather than handed the Jets’ LT post.

The 11-year veteran was in place as the Pack’s LT starter for two of Rodgers’ four MVP seasons, picking up five All-Pro honors himself. Though, the 32-year-old blocker’s five knee surgeries over the past three years have changed his career path. Regardless of Bakhtiari’s status, the Jets appear prepared to reshape their O-line in a high-stakes offseason for the franchise.

Jets Give QB Zach Wilson Permission To Seek Trade

Expected for months to be set for a Big Apple departure, Zach Wilson may soon take another step toward that reality. The Jets have given the former No. 2 overall pick permission to seek a trade, Joe Douglas said Wednesday.

Given the trade buzz around Wilson — which includes the underwhelming quarterback looking into potential fits elsewhere — this is not surprising. The Jets will first try to trade the three-year starter, who has been tied to potentially fetching a late-round pick in a swap.

Supplanted as the Jets’ starter by Aaron Rodgers, Wilson had been benched for Mike White previously. The Jets effectively admitted their mistake — not acquiring a veteran option to either challenge Wilson for the QB2 role and not landing one after Rodgers’ Achilles injury — and are ready to move on.

The Jets’ decision comes as the Bears are likely to trade Justin Fields. The No. 3 overall pick from that 2021 draft — Trey Lance — has already been moved, being dealt from the 49ers to the Cowboys, and Mac Jones is certainly on unstable ground with the Patriots. That five-first-rounder 2021 QB class features only one of those players — No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence — assured of being his team’s starter in 2024.

This separation will bring familiar territory for the Jets, who have seen their repeat investments in first- and second-round QBs fail to produce a long-term option. The team traded Sam Darnold after three seasons and did not re-sign Geno Smith or Mark Sanchez. Christian Hackenberg famously never played an NFL snap. Wilson, of course, goes on this regime’s balance sheet. Choosing the once-fast-rising BYU prospect second overall has done the most to push Douglas and Robert Saleh onto hot seats. The two decision-makers have this year to convince Woody Johnson they are worthy of keeping their jobs.

As of now, it appears unlikely the Jets will resort to cutting Wilson. Doing so would bring a cap charge over $11MM. A possible sixth- or seventh-round pick could be the return here. That obviously would fall well short of what Darnold fetched in 2021 (second-, fourth- and sixth-rounders), but Wilson has faceplanted in New York and is on the verge of becoming one of the game’s biggest modern-era busts. Through 34 games (33 starts), Wilson has completed just 57% of his passes — at 6.3 yards a clip — and is 12-21 as a starter.

Saleh benched Wilson in November 2022, amid concerns in the locker room, and then sat him during a nationally televised Thursday-night game later that year. Summoned once Rodgers went down four plays into his New York tenure, Wilson was again erratic. Saleh benched him for Tim Boyle, though the three-year HC later admitted he always thought Wilson was the most talented option following the Rodgers injury. (The Jets cut Boyle a day after his second start.) That benching led to the rumor circulating that Wilson was hesitant to move back into the starting role. He finished the season out with a concussion.

Rodgers, 40, has said he is planning to play at least two more seasons. His 2023 injury — and previous admission he was 90% retired before changing his stance and joining the Jets last year — should give the team some pause about that timeline. But the Jets are committed to Rodgers, who has significant influence in the building. Johnson went as far as to say the Jets had no backup quarterback last season. Now, it will be a matter of finding a replacement soon and seeing if they can salvage a late-round draft choice for Wilson.

Jets Not Planning To Tag DE Bryce Huff

FEBRUARY 28: One of the top edge defenders set to be available on the market, Huff will be assured — barring an extension — of reaching free agency. Joe Douglas confirmed Wednesday (via NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo) the Jets are not planning to use the tag to retain Huff. After the cap spike to $255.4MM, it would cost the Jets $21.32MM to tag their 2023 sack leader.

FEBRUARY 15: This year’s franchise tag outlook appears to feature a higher number of likely recipients compared to 2023. The Jets could factor into this mix, but their roster makeup also might not support it. Absent a tag, the team’s exclusive negotiating rights with Bryce Huff expire March 11.

The Jets have until 3pm CT on March 5 to tag Huff, but as of now, that should not be expected. The Jets are unlikely to use the tag in an effort to keep Huff away from free agency, ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini notes. The team did not make much of an effort to extend Huff during the season, failing to make an offer. But the Jets still want to re-sign the UDFA success story.

They are running out of time to do so, and Huff has said he will not consider a hometown discount in order to keep going as a Jet. Although the Jets have used Huff as more of a rotational rusher, he led the team with 10 sacks — after failing to register four in any of his prior seasons — and paced the NFL in pressure percentage. Huff’s 21.8% pressure rate surpassed second-place Micah Parsons (20.8%), Cimini adds. Though, Parsons’ number is a bit more impressive considering the Cowboys phenom hit that number playing 864 defensive snaps; Huff logged only 480. That makes pinpointing his value a bit difficult, and the Jets’ defensive end depth chart adds to this unusual equation.

Although the Jets were widely believed to be targeting Georgia tackle Broderick Jones in last year’s first round, they wound up with Will McDonald at No. 15. New York held the No. 13 overall pick but sent it to Green Bay as part of the Aaron Rodgers trade. After the Jets slid down two spots, the Steelers climbed up to No. 14 — viewing Jones as Gang Green’s target — to draft the high-end O-line prospect. McDonald played far less than Huff last season, seeing action on only 19% of the Jets’ defensive snaps. Unless the team wants to keep a top-15 pick in that reduced role, it may need to make a sacrifice involving Huff.

I would absolutely hate to lose him,” Jets DC Jeff Ulbrich said (via Cimini), “but he’s a guy that has earned every penny that he’s about to make.”

Pro Football Focus also viewed Huff as one of the NFL’s worst run defenders among edges, injecting some “buyer beware” into this situation. Though, defensive ends are largely paid to pressure quarterbacks. Huff not being tagged will open the floodgates for a team that views the Memphis alum as an untapped resource. Huff’s 480 defensive snaps last season were by far a career-high number. The 6-foot-3 DE also said he wants to be part of a team that views him as a three-down player. His 2023 usage rate and McDonald’s presence makes that a complicated matter for the Jets, who hold just more than $4MM in cap space as of Thursday.

It would cost approximately $23.35MM for the Jets to tag Huff, who played fewer defensive snaps than teammates John Franklin-Myers and Jermaine Johnson. Only the QB tag checks in higher than what it will cost a team to cuff a defensive end. With the Jets needing immediate help at tackle and suddenly in need of a starter-caliber wide receiver — despite the additions of Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman last year — the team allocating the bulk of its free agency budget to helping Rodgers on offense makes sense. Woody Johnson‘s mandate of sorts — as Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas attempt to keep their jobs — all but assured the Jets will focus on offense this offseason.

The Panthers are likely to tag Brian Burns, and the Jaguars are not expected to let Josh Allen hit the market. Quality edge rushers are on track to be available — from Danielle Hunter to Chase Young to Jonathan Greenard to Dorance Armstrong — but Huff will reside as an upper-echelon commodity if he reaches free agency.

Jets To Release OL Laken Tomlinson

Laken Tomlinson‘s stint with the Jets has ended after two seasons. The Jets are releasing the veteran offensive guard, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

The move will save the Jets more than $8MM against the cap, with the lineman counting for $10.71MM in dead money. Tomlinson was set to enter the final season of the three-year, $40MM pact he signed with the organization back in 2022. While the veteran has been a consistent presence through his two years with the organization, his future in New York was in doubt considering his $18.85MM cap hit for the 2024 campaign.

The former first-round pick spent his first two seasons in Detroit before finding a home in San Francisco. He ended up spending five seasons with the 49ers, including a 2021 campaign where he earned his lone Pro Bowl nod while ranking 13th among 82 eligible guard candidates (via Pro Football Focus).

Part of the appeal of Tomlinson was his reliability, and he certainly delivered in that regard during his time with the Jets. He started all 34 of his appearances in New York, and the 32-year-old lineman has an active 114-game starting streak. However, Tomlinson wasn’t able to carry over his 49ers production during his stint in New York.

Following that aforementioned 13th-place finish in 2021, Pro Football Focus hasn’t graded Tomlinson higher than 53rd in either of his two seasons in New York. The website was especially critical of his run-blocking ability, ranking him in the bottom-20 at his position in that category this past season.

With Tomlinson officially out, the Jets will be seeking at least three new lineman next season. Depending on how the team proceeds with Alijah Vera-Tucker, the Jets could be pursuing two new offensive tackles and a new offensive guard. There’s an expectation that the organization will look to fill at least one of those holes via free agency, and they could also turn to the draft for reinforcement (especially with their tenth-overall pick).

Rams Finalize 2024 Coaching Staff

The Rams were one of several teams forced to reconstruct their coaching staff this offseason. While it’s always a challenge to replace staff, the Rams aren’t doing it because they needed to fire anybody, they’re simply replacing coaches who moved on to bigger jobs. Head coach Sean McVay is doing what he’s done year after year, bringing in a new staff that is sure to flourish under his tutelage.

On offense, we were already aware of the hires of quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone to replace Zac Robinson, senior offensive assistant Jerry Schuplinski, and offensive assistant and pass game specialist Nate Scheelhaase, though the “offensive assistant” part of that title is new information.

In addition, since the departed Robinson had held the title of pass-game coordinator, that moniker has transferred to tight ends coach Nick Caley. Lastly, with offensive assistants K.J. Black and Nick Jones following Robinson and former defensive coordinator Raheem Morris to Atlanta, Los Angeles has brought in former Jets quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese as a new offensive assistant. Calabrese takes a step back after spending three years in his first NFL position coaching job.

The defensive side of the ball is where the most change will commence, since Morris departed to become the next head coach of the Falcons. We have already reported on Giff Smith‘s replacement of Eric Henderson as defensive line coach and run game coordinator and the hiring of former Eagles defensive coordinator Sean Desai as a senior defensive assistant, as well as the departure of assistant head coach Jimmy Lake, who left to become Morris’ defensive coordinator in Atlanta.

Los Angeles’ update informed us on some pending information for the rest of the defensive staff. First, we had heard that former Packers pass-game coordinator Greg Williams had interviewed for the Rams inside linebackers coaching job, and now we know that he has officially been hired for the role, replacing Chris Shula following his promotion to defensive coordinator. Formerly the secondary coach, Chris Beake‘s official title has been altered to safeties coach, and while assistant defensive line coach AC Carter interviewed for the position that went to Smith after Henderson’s exit, Carter will simply remain in his current role. Additionally, outside linebackers coach Joe Coniglio, defensive backs coach and pass game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant, and defensive assistant Mike Harris have all been retained by Shula in their current roles.

Lastly, on special teams, the Rams hired Chili Davis as assistant special teams coach to replace Jeremy Springer, who departed to become special teams coordinator in New England. Davis will take his first NFL job after coaching for the last 11 years in various college gigs. Most recently, he served as special teams coordinator at Florida A&M in 2022 before going to Manhattan to serve as Kansas State’s special teams quality control coach. Also, on the coaching staff, John Streicher has been brought on board to serve as game management coordinator. Streicher spent the last six seasons in Tennessee, most recently serving as the Titans director of football administration.

There you have it: the 2024 coaching staff for the Rams. McVay is certainly used to shuffling his staff at this point in his career in Los Angeles. He was able to rebound from a rough 2022 season to get back to the playoffs, and with this new staff, he’ll try to get back to the pinnacle of the sport after winning it all in 2021.

NFC Coaching Updates: Falcons, Vikings, Garcia, Glenn

As the offseason chugs along, teams continue to reconstruct their coaching staffs. The Falcons made a number of moves just before the weekend, according to Michael Rothstein of ESPN. The staff continues to take shape under new head coach Raheem Morris.

On offense, two announcements were made on assistants looking to hold over from Arthur Smith‘s staff last year. Rothstein reports that assistant offensive line coach Shawn Flaherty and offensive assistant Patrick Kramer, who each came to Atlanta last offseason, will be retained in their previous positions.

A new hire was announced, as well, with the team naming Jacquies Smith as their new outside linebackers coach. Formerly a seven-year NFL defensive end, the former undrafted player out of Missouri will now accept his first NFL coaching position. After disappearing from the NFL-world for a spell and making an appearance in the XFL, Smith worked with draft-eligible players in pre-draft training. He most recently spent the 2023 season as an assistant edge coach for the Texas Longhorns.

In the front office, the team announced the hires of John Griffin as director of player performance and Rob Dadona as manager of coaching operations. Griffin follows Morris after spending the past three years with the Rams. Dadona replaces Brian Griffin, who departed to serve as Chief of Staff at the University of Maryland. Dadona spent the past five seasons with the Jets, serving as assistant to the head coach for the last three.

Here are a few other staff updates from around the NFC, starting with a couple out of Minneapolis:

  • The Vikings announced two staff additions this weekend, naming assistant offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett and assistant to the head coach Henry Schneider IV. Sarrett replaces Justin Rascati, who departed for Los Angeles to serve as the Chargers pass-game coordinator. The two essentially swapped places, as Sarrett spent the past three years in the assistant offensive line coaching role with the Chargers. Schneider spent the last five years with the Raiders, most recently as the manager of coaching operations.
  • The Cowboys added a hot, young name out of Washington to their defensive staff this weekend. Cristian Garcia, who spent part of last year as the Commanders interim defensive backs coach, will head to Dallas as a defensive quality control coach, per Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News. Garcia was a name that former Commanders head coach Ron Rivera turned to for leadership after firing defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Now he’ll join the NFC East rival.
  • Washington added their own coaching assistant last week. According to ESPN’s John Keim, John Glenn will join the staff as the Commanders’ new assistant special teams coach. Glenn replaces Ben Jacobs, who had served in the same role since following Rivera from Carolina in 2020 but was not retained by the new staff. Glenn changes roles a bit after spending the past six seasons as the Seahawks linebackers coach.

2024 NFL Cap Space, By Team

The NFL provided clarity to its teams on Friday by setting the salary cap ceiling ($255.4MM). Franchise tag figures have been locked in as well, and clubs can now proceed with their offseason planning knowing exactly where they stand with respect to financial flexibility. Courtesy of Over the Cap, here is the current landscape in terms of salary cap space:

  1. Washington Commanders: $79.61MM
  2. Tennessee Titans: $78.66MM
  3. Chicago Bears: $78.34MM
  4. New England Patriots: $77.96MM
  5. Indianapolis Colts: $72.34MM
  6. Houston Texans: $67.58MM
  7. Detroit Lions: $57.61MM
  8. Arizona Cardinals: $51.1MM
  9. Cincinnati Bengals: $50.67MM
  10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $43.68MM
  11. Los Angles Rams: $43.11MM
  12. Las Vegas Raiders: $42.94MM
  13. Minnesota Vikings: $35.81MM
  14. Carolina Panthers: $34.57MM
  15. Atlanta Falcons: $33MM
  16. New York Giants: $30.8MM
  17. Philadelphia Eagles: $27.35MM
  18. Jacksonville Jaguars: $24.68MM
  19. Kansas City Chiefs: $18.19MM
  20. Baltimore Ravens: $16.63MM
  21. Seattle Seahawks: $12.97MM
  22. New York Jets: $12.76MM
  23. Pittsburgh Steelers: $9MM
  24. Green Bay Packers: $2.3MM
  25. San Francisco 49ers: $5.07MM over the cap
  26. Cleveland Browns: $7.76MM over
  27. Dallas Cowboys: $9.86MM over
  28. Denver Broncos: $16.81MM over
  29. Los Angeles Chargers: $25.61MM over
  30. Miami Dolphins: $27.92MM over
  31. New Orleans Saints: $42.11MM over
  32. Buffalo Bills: $43.82MM over

All teams must be cap compliant by the start of the new league year, but it will of course be more than just those currently over the limit which will make cost-shedding moves in the near future. Cuts, restructures and extensions are available as tools to carve out space in advance of free agency. Several have already taken place around the league.

That includes the Dolphins’ release of defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and the planned cut of Xavien Howard. The latter cannot be designated a post-June 1 release until free agency begins but once it happens, Miami will move much closer to cap compliance. The Saints have moved considerable commitments into the future via restructures (as usual), but more transactions on that front will be required even with the cap seeing an historic single-season jump.

The roughly $30MM spike from 2023 will provide unforeseen spending power for teams already set to lead the pack in cap space while also making the task of those at the bottom of the list easier. Spending more on backloaded contracts this offseason at the expense of future space obviously carries risk, however. Still, the news of a higher-than-expected ceiling will add further intrigue to each team’s financial planning.

With Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson each set to carry record-breaking cap hits for 2024, the Cowboys and Browns will be among the teams most in need of working out a deal to lower those figures. In Dallas’ case in particular, an extension would provide immediate breathing room in addition to clarity on his future beyond the coming season. For Cleveland, Watson’s fully-guaranteed deal has already been restructured once and will need to be again to avoid consecutive years of a $64MM cap charge over its remaining term.

If the Commanders and Patriots add a quarterback with the second and third picks in this year’s draft, each team currently in the top six in space will enjoy the benefits of having a signal-caller on their rookie contracts. That would allow for an aggressive approach to free agency, although the Chiefs’ success after Patrick Mahomes signed (and re-worked) his monster extension has proven it is possible to win Super Bowl titles with a substantial QB investment on the books.

Jets Notes: Adams, OL, Hogan

Even before the Jets acquired Aaron Rodgers, the team was busy adding many of the quarterback’s former teammates from Green Bay. With Rodgers expected to be fully healthy heading into the 2024 campaign, the organization is once again expected to pursue some of the veteran’s preferred targets.

However, one major name that may be unrealistic is Davante Adams. Tony Pauline of Sportskeeda.com writes that an Adams-to-Jets move isn’t “remotely possible.” For starters, the Raiders have no real desire to trade their star wideout. The organization values the player’s leadership, and new head coach Antonio Pierce expects the veteran to be a part of their desired “winning culture.”

Further, the Jets would never be willing to meet the asking price for the star wide receiver. If the Raiders would ever consider trading Adams, Pauline believes they’d request New York’s 2024 and 2025 first-round picks. It’s unlikely that the Raiders would accept an offer of a first-round pick and a third-round pick, even if that first was the No. 10 pick in the upcoming draft.

Adams’ stint with the Packers ended before Rodgers’ tenure in Green Bay, and he was sent to Las Vegas to play alongside his college QB, Derek Carr. The two showed their chemistry in 2022, with Adams finishing with 1,516 receiving yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns. However, the organization moved on from Carr last offseason, and inconsistency at the QB position led to Adams putting up some of his worst numbers in years. The wideout ultimately finished this past season with 103 catches for 1,144 and eight touchdowns, with each of those stats marking his lowest totals since his 12-game performance in 2019.

Because of those declining numbers and the organization’s uncertainty at quarterback, there were some rumblings that Rodgers could look to recruit Adams to New York. For the time being, it sounds like the receiver is staying put.

More notes out of New York…

  • The Jets have significant holes on their offensive line, and ESPN’s Rich Cimini estimates that the team will pursue two new offensive tackles and a guard. Considering that long shopping list, Cimini expects the team to pursue at least one OL via free agency. The organization could also look to fill one of those holes with their first-round pick, with Cimini pointing to Penn State’s Olumuyiwa Fashanu or Oregon State’s Taliese Fuaga as options.
  • Following the Jets’ disappointing 2023 campaign, there were a handful of damning reports surrounding the organization’s inner turmoil. According to Pauline, some in the organization believe assistant general manager Rex Hogan was responsible for the leaks. These leaked reports ranged from Zach Wilson’s reluctance to be inserted back into the lineup to coach Robert Saleh‘s excuses for the team’s record. Hogan and the Jets mutually decided to part ways following the season.
  • Speaking of Wilson, we heard earlier this week that the former first-round pick has started to evaluate trade options. The Jets are all but guaranteed to move on from Wilson this offseason, and it sounds like the organization is giving the QB some say in his next destination.

2024 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates

A valuable tool for teams to keep top free agents off the market, the franchise tag has been in existence since 1993. This week brought the opening of the 2024 tag window. Clubs have until 3pm CT on March 5 to apply tags. As the Giants’ situation showed last year, most of the tag-related business comes near the close of this window. Teams will continue to work toward re-signing their respective tag candidates, thus preventing a lofty franchise tender from hitting their cap sheet.

The legal tampering period opens March 11, with the new league year (and official free agency) starting March 13. Once a player is tagged, he has until July 15 to sign an extension with his respective team. Absent an extension agreement by that date, the player must play the 2023 season on the tag (or go the Le’Veon Bell/Dan Williams/Sean Gilbert route, passing on guaranteed money and skipping the season).

High-profile free agents remain weeks away from hitting the market. As PFR’s tag recipients list shows, a handful of players are prevented from taking their services to free agency each year. This year looks to present a few more tag candidates compared to 2023. With a handful of teams determining if they will need to use the tag to prevent a free agency path, here are the players who figure to be tagged or at least generate conversations about being franchised ahead of the March 5 deadline:

Locks

Josh Allen, OLB (Jaguars)
Tag cost: $24MM

GM Trent Baalke did not leave much suspense when he addressed Allen’s future last month. The veteran exec said the 2019 first-round pick will be a Jaguar in 2024, indicating the team would use its franchise tag if necessary. The Jaguars do have Calvin Ridley as a free agent, but the team would owe the Falcons a 2024 second-round pick if it extended the wide receiver’s contract before the start of the league year. The second pick sent to Atlanta will only be a third-rounder if Jacksonville lets Ridley hit free agency. It makes more sense for Jacksonville to circle back to Ridley after allowing him to test the market. An Allen tag effectively ensures that will happen.

Timing his sack breakthrough well, Allen registered a Jags-record 17.5 during his contract year. The five-year Jaguar has combined for 55 QB hits over the past two seasons and ranks top 10 in pressures over the past three. The tag regularly keeps top edge rushers from hitting free agency, and the 26-year-old pass rusher — while obviously wanting to be paid what he’s worth — expressed a desire to stay in Jacksonville long term.

The Jags have regularly unholstered their tag during the 2020s, cuffing Yannick Ngakoue in 2020 and then keeping Cam Robinson off the 2021 and ’22 markets. The team kept Evan Engram out of free agency last year. Robinson signed an extension in 2022, and the Jags re-upped Engram last July. The Ngakoue situation could be notable, as the edge rusher became disgruntled with the Jags and was eventually traded to the Vikings that summer. No signs of that level of trouble are brewing with Allen yet.

Jaylon Johnson, CB (Bears)
Tag cost: $19.8MM

Johnson is likely to become the first franchise-tagged cornerback since the Rams kept Trumaine Johnson off the 2017 market. The Bears are the most recent team to tag a corner, using the transition tag to cuff Kyle Fuller in 2018. They will almost definitely follow suit with Johnson, who has been rumored to be tagged for several weeks. A Ryan Pace-era draftee, Johnson expressed his desire to stay with the Bears ahead of his contract year. With that platform campaign producing some twists and turns, that price has gone up significantly.

After unsuccessful in-season extension talks, the Bears gave Johnson an 11th-hour opportunity to gauge his trade value. The Bears did not alert teams Johnson, 24, was available until the night before the Oct. 31 deadline. Although the Bills and 49ers engaged in talks about a trade, the Bears held out for a first- or second-round pick. Nothing materialized, which will likely come up during the team’s talks with Johnson. The Bears then extended trade pickup Montez Sweat, leaving Johnson in limbo. But the former second-round pick stuck the landing on an impact season. He is firmly in the Bears’ plans, and the team holds more than $66MM in cap space — plenty to squeeze in a tag onto the payroll.

Pro Football Focus’ top-graded corner in 2023, Johnson displayed a new gear that has made him worthy of a tag. Finishing with four interceptions and allowing just a 50.9 passer rating as the closest defender, the Utah alum soared to second-team All-Pro status. The Bears, who last used the tag on Allen Robinson in 2021, made no secret of their interest in retaining Johnson and will have a few more months to negotiate with him as a result of the tag.

Likely tag recipients

Brian Burns, OLB (Panthers)
Projected tag cost: $24MM

The Panthers hiring a new GM and head coach classifies this as just short of a lock, but familiar faces remain. Carolina promoted assistant general manager Dan Morgan to GM and blocked DC Ejiro Evero from departing. Burns has been viewed as a likely tag recipient since last season, after negotiations broke down. The Panthers have not offered a negotiating masterclass here, as Burns has been extension-eligible since the 2022 offseason. Since-fired GM Scott Fitterer had viewed Burns as a re-up candidate for two offseasons, but multiple rounds of trade talks boosted the 2019 first-rounder’s leverage.

In what looks like a mistake, the Panthers passed on a Rams offer that included two first-rounders and a third for Burns at the 2022 trade deadline. Carolina then kept Burns out of 2023 trade talks with Chicago about the No. 1 pick, ultimately sending D.J. Moore to the Windy City for the Bryce Young draft slot. Carolina also kept Burns at the 2023 deadline, as teams looked into the top pass rusher on the NFL’s worst team. Burns also saw his position’s market change via Nick Bosa‘s record-setting extension ($34MM per year). The 49ers’ landmark accord came to pass after Burns had set a $30MM-AAV price point, complicating Morgan’s upcoming assignment.

Burns, 25, has registered at least 7.5 sacks in each of his five seasons. While he has only topped nine in a season once (2022), the two-time Pro Bowler is one of the league’s better edge rushers. Given the Panthers’ history with Burns, it would be borderline shocking to see the team allow the Florida State alum to leave in exchange for merely a third-round compensatory pick.

Burns has said he wants to stay with the Panthers; he is unlikely to have a choice this year. The Panthers last used the tag to keep right tackle Taylor Moton off the market in 2021; the sides agreed to an extension that offseason.

Tee Higgins, WR (Bengals)
Tag cost: $21.82MM

Seeing their hopes of capitalizing on the final year of Higgins’ rookie contract dashed due to Joe Burrow‘s season-ending injury, the Bengals look to be giving strong consideration to keeping the Burrow-Higgins-Ja’Marr Chase trio together for one last ride of sorts. The Bengals hold $59.4MM in cap space — fifth-most currently — and structured Burrow’s extension in a way that makes a Higgins tag palatable. Burrow’s deal does not spike into historic cap territory until 2025.

While a future in which Chase and Higgins are signed long term is more difficult to foresee, the Bengals still carry one of the AFC’s best rosters. It is likely Burrow’s top two weapons remain in the fold for at least one more year. Higgins, 25, did not come close to posting a third straight 1,000-yard season. Burrow’s injury had plenty to do with that, though the former second-round pick started slowly. A Bengals 2023 extension offer underwhelmed Higgins, but the Bengals kept him out of trades. A tag will give Cincinnati the option to rent him for 2024. A tag-and-trade transaction is viewed as unlikely, as the Bengals load up again.

How the organization proceeds beyond 2024 will be a key storyline, but the Bengals — who kept Jessie Bates in similar fashion in 2022 — are positioned well to run back perhaps the NFL’s best receiving tandem. While director of player personnel Duke Tobin stopped short of guaranteeing Higgins will be a Bengal in 2024, signs point to it.

Justin Madubuike, DL (Ravens)
Tag cost: $22.1MM

Seeing their defensive coordinator depart and once again facing questions at outside linebacker, the Ravens have the option of keeping their top 2023 pass rusher off the market. They are probably going to take that route. Madubuike raised his price considerably during an impact contract year, leading the Ravens with 13 sacks. While Mike Macdonald was able to coax surprising seasons from late additions Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, Madubuike drove Baltimore’s defensive engine and will likely be guaranteed a high salary by signing his franchise tender.

Perennially interested in hoarding compensatory picks, the Ravens have regularly let breakthrough pass rushers walk in free agency. This dates back to the likes of Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee and subsequently included Za’Darius Smith and Matt Judon. The Ravens have only been able to replace Judon with stopgap options — from Clowney to Van Noy to Justin Houston — and again must figure out a solution alongside Odafe Oweh on the edge. Madubuike, 26, proved too good to let walk; the former third-round pick will once again be expected to anchor Baltimore’s pass rush in 2024.

Antoine Winfield Jr., S (Buccaneers)
Tag cost: $17.12MM

We mentioned Winfield as the Bucs’ most likely tag recipient around the midseason point, and signs now point to that reality coming to pass. The Bucs want to re-sign Baker Mayfield and Mike Evans. The bounce-back quarterback’s tender price would check in at nearly $36MM, and because Evans was attached to a veteran contract, his tag number would come in well north of Higgins’ — at beyond $28MM. As such, the Bucs cuffing Winfield has always made the most sense, and after the second-generation NFL DB’s dominant contract year, it would be stunning to see the team let him walk.

The Bucs have let their recent top free agents test free agency, only to re-sign Shaquil Barrett (2021), Carlton Davis (2022) and Jamel Dean (2023). Winfield may be on a higher plane, having secured first-team All-Pro acclaim last season. Davis and Dean have never made a Pro Bowl; Winfield’s productive and well-regarded 2023 stands to separate him. Winfield, 25, tallied six sacks and three interceptions while forcing an NFL-leading six fumbles. This included a pivotal strip of DJ Chark in the Bucs’ Week 18 win over the Panthers, which clinched them the NFC South title.

Winfield will undoubtedly be eyeing a top-market safety extension. Derwin James established the current standard, $19MM per year, just before the 2022 season. Last year’s safety market did not feature big-ticket prices, for the most part, but the Falcons made Jessie Bates (four years, $64MM) an exception. If Winfield were to reach free agency, he would be expected to eclipse that.

The Bucs, who have used the tag three times in the 2020s, should not be considered likely to let Winfield follow Davis and Dean’s path by speaking with other teams. Tampa Bay has used the tag three times in the 2020s, cuffing Barrett in 2020 and tagging Chris Godwin twice. The team eventually re-signed both, and while the statuses of Mayfield and Evans (and All-Pro tackle Tristan Wirfs) create a crowded contract queue, the Bucs will certainly be interested in re-upping Winfield.

On tag radar

Saquon Barkley, RB (Giants)
Tag cost: $12MM

Barkley has said he wants to finish his career with the Giants, and the team will meet with the Pro Bowl running back’s camp at the Combine. But a recent report indicated the team is highly unlikely to tag the six-year veteran a second time. The Giants should not be ruled out from reversing course and keeping Barkley, given his importance to an otherwise low-octane offense, but it appears they are prepared to move on if the talented RB does not accept their extension offer this time around. A host of talented backs await in free agency, though Barkley would likely be the top prize were he to reach the market.

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Latest On Jets QB Zach Wilson

It was reported last month that the Jets plan to trade quarterback Zach Wilson, which was not at all surprising given Wilson’s largely disappointing three-year run with the club. Subsequent reports suggesting that the Wilson-Aaron Rodgers relationship was not in a good place, coupled with owner Woody Johnson‘s candid remarks about his team’s quarterback situation, underscored the likelihood of a Wilson exit.

To that end, Wilson himself has begun to evaluate trade options, as Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com recently detailed (subscription required). Gang Green selected Wilson in head coach Robert Saleh‘s first draft with the team, which means Wilson has never worked under an offensive-minded HC; per Fowler, the BYU product is interested in a bench boss with more of an offensive background. It is unclear whether the Jets have granted Wilson permission to seek a trade at this point, though the fact that Wilson is likely not near the top of the wishlist for QB-needy clubs means that a deal may not be consummated before the draft anyway.

Wilson, who will turn 25 before the start of the 2024 regular season, was supposed to serve as Rodgers’ backup in 2023. But when Rodgers’ season was cut short just four snaps into the campaign, Wilson was against thrust into the starting lineup. Playing behind an injury-riddled O-line and under an offensive coordinator (Nathaniel Hackett) who has been criticized for his inability to adequately adjust to the Rodgers injury, Wilson did not show much improvement over his prior work, completing 60.1% of his passes for eight TDs and seven interceptions. That amounted to a QBR of 30.6 (worst among primary starters) and a quarterback rating of 77.2 (third-worst). The Jets went 4-7 in his starts.

Rich Cimini of ESPN.com thinks it is unlikely that the Jets will simply cut Wilson — aside from the embarrassment such a move would be for the team, a pre-June 1 cut would yield a dead money charge of over $11MM with no corresponding cap savings — though their trade return will obviously be limited. Cimini’s sources believe that Wilson will fetch a sixth- or seventh-round selection, and that a swap of middle-round picks is also a possibility. One exec also floated the idea of a conditional 2025 selection (with the condition being how many snaps Wilson takes for the acquiring team in 2024).

One way or another, it sounds as if Wilson has played his last snap for the Jets, as Johnson made it abundantly clear that New York will need a new No. 2 passer. Interestingly, Connor Hughes of SNY.tv writes that some within the organization are high on Commanders QB Sam Howell, who just finished a disappointing season of his own.

There is no indication that Washington, which is likely to select a top quarterback prospect with the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, is prepared to deal Howell, who led the league with 21 interceptions in 2023 but who did show flashes of high-end abiltity. The Commanders may prefer to hold on to the 2022 draftee in case their rookie passer is not immediately ready to take the reins, or simply to have a capable backup on hand. But if the team elects to move him, Hughes believes the Jets should pounce.