NFL 2021 franchise tag deadline winners and losers: Buccaneers victorious, Jaguars swing and miss

The 2021 NFL franchise tag deadline came and went Tuesday, with nine different teams exercising the tag to secure top free agents ahead of next week’s official offseason kickoff: 10 if you count the Cowboys tagging Dak Prescott, which is merely a procedural move for the quarterback’s new long-term deal. Some tags were widely expected, and others were a bit more surprising. But while the deadline passing means all eyes will now turn to the open market, which begins with a legal tampering window starting March 15, plenty of teams must still deal with the ramifications of Tuesday’s tags.

Who won Tuesday’s franchise tag deadline? Who lost? Here’s our best initial read of the NFL landscape:

Winners

Aaron Jones

No tag from Green Bay? No problem. Jones probably wouldn’t mind striking a long-term deal to be a “Packer for life,” as he’s talked about, but his leverage now goes up with free agency looming. If he gets free, he’ll cash in as the clear-cut top unsigned running back. Can’t you just envision the Dolphins jersey now?

Buccaneers

They’ve still got work to do to lock up Shaquil Barrett, but if long-term talks are already underway, that’s a good sign. It helps that Barrett would be returning to a roster that’ll still feature Chris Godwin and Lavonte David. The former is a logical candidate for his own extension now that he’s been tagged for 2021, and David’s reported two-year, $25 million pact to lead Todd Bowles’ defense is a home run for both sides. Tom Brady’s squad has done just about everything right so far.

Kenny Golladay

The Lions apparently aren’t even going to put up a fight (at least officially) to prevent him from testing free agency. Golladay will be free to sign wherever he wants, and with Godwin and Allen Robinson tagged, he’s due to lead the 2021 receiver market.

Leonard Williams

Tagged for a second year in a row, he’ll earn a guaranteed $19.35 million in 2021. Worst-case scenario, he rakes in that dough and looks to cash in again as a 2022 free agent. Alternatively, he gets big bucks to stay in New York as the Giants’ top defensive lineman.

Panthers

They’ve still got QB to figure out, but when they do, they can rest assured they’ll have rock-solid tackle Taylor Moton in tow after the tag. Moton is a young, rising bookend, which is worth a lot. He feels like exactly the kind of guy who could be extended, too.

Saints

They get a mention here just for rubbing the salary cap in our faces again. More than $40 million over the cap, and somehow they’ve got room to tag young safety Marcus Williams? He seems like a prime candidate to stick around on a long-term deal.

Teams looking for pass rushers

Leonard Williams was the only defensive lineman to be tagged. Even if Barrett re-ups in Tampa Bay, the free agent market is set to be loaded with quality edge rushers. Between Bud Dupree and Yannick Ngakoue and Carl Lawson and Matt Judon and Trey Hendrickson, there is a huge crop of unsigned talent ready to be pursued.

Losers

Allen Robinson

Have you ever been trapped in the city of Chicago and/or with undesirable QB situations? Then you can relate. A-Rob would’ve had a dozen aggressive suitors had he hit the market. Now, he might be in for a game of hardball with a desperate Bears front office that doesn’t want to let its No. 1 wideout walk but has failed to give him a long-term deal for months. Don’t rule out a future trade.

Jaguars

We get the idea of securing an incumbent left tackle ahead of presumptive No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence’s arrival, but guaranteeing $14.5 million to Cam Robinson on the tag after the vet graded among the worst pass protectors of 2020 in a contract year? Don’t love it. Why not use the cash to spend big for, say, Trent Williams or another free agent?

Jared Goff

Golladay wasn’t likely to stick around Detroit anyway, but the Lions’ new QB might’ve at least preferred his team make an effort at giving him someone to throw the ball to. Now, Goff is positioned to be passing to … Tyrell Williams? Quintez Cephus? Is the second guy even real? Eh, maybe it won’t matter anyway, because the Lions seem pretty open to drafting Goff’s replacement.

Teams looking for star receivers

Don’t get it twisted: The 2021 free-agent WR class is deep. Underrated options like T.Y. Hilton and Nelson Agholor could be bargain additions. But with Godwin and Robinson both off the board, a handful of receiver-needy teams will be missing out on maybe the only true No. 1 options that were supposed to be available. Golladay is close to that caliber, but A-Rob and Godwin would’ve elicited countless lucrative offers. Time to pay up for JuJu Smith-Schuster and Will Fuller.