As it stands, teams like the Dallas Cowboys have a specific day circled on their calendar that will dictate most of what they can or can’t do to begin NFL free agency in 2021. That date is Tuesday, March 9, because on that day, no player can be franchise tagged after 4 p.m. ET. So as the Cowboys work hard at trying to achieve their mission of avoiding using a second tag on two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott, and as other clubs face a similar (although less pressing) decision, it all comes down to now — just over 24 hours to the tag deadline on Tuesday.
That is if it isn’t pushed back, which reportedly could happen. Thanks to the ongoing and lengthy salary cap discussions between the NFL and the NFLPA, the former is considering pushing back the tag deadline this offseason — per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network — to allow time for coming to terms on a final cap figure. Without that in hand, teams remain somewhat handicapped in any negotiations that might be ongoing, and that will most certainly be an issue if it’s not resolved by the time legal tampering begins on March 15.
A delay would serve a team like the Cowboys well, seeing as it would buy them added time to try and finalize something with Prescott and save themselves a costly $37.7 million placeholder. Talks have been positive and progress has been made on that front, sources tell CBS Sports, but a deal was not imminent as of Sunday evening — the Joneses likely drooling at a chance to have a few more days to potentially iron things out with their franchise quarterback.
Thus far, there has been only one player tagged and that’s safety Justin Simmons, the Denver Broncos being proactive in protecting him as the two sides continue negotiations on a long-term deal. Other teams eyeing the tag include the Green Bay Packers in their discussions with running back Aaron Jones, another example of an organization working to figure out how to free up cap space for free agency without formally knowing how much they’ll need to free up. There has been at least some headway made in the cap negotiations, with the floor being raised from $175 million to $180 million in February, but there’s been no additional movement since.
Just one day from the first major deadline of the offseason, teams still have no clue what the top figure above their financial spreadsheets will be and, as such, are walking half blind at the moment. There is more at play here than simply the tag deadline, by the way, because a delay in that might also trickle down into a late start to the new league year altogether — slated to get underway on March 17. One year ago, due at the time to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL moved the tag deadline back to just one minute ahead of the legal tampering window, and the cap was ultimately agreed upon on March 15, keeping the start of free agency and the new league year intact, barely.
One of the holdups is reportedly centered about TV contract negotiations that are running concurrent with cap discussions, per Dan Graziano of ESPN, with the NFLPA wanting to see those numbers before agreeing to a final figure for 2021. With rumors framing new potential TV revenue as potentially gaining a multi-billion dollar pay raise (potentially around 30 percent in favor of the NFL), it stands to reason the union would stand pat until they see where those numbers land.
And if they do, there will be no final cap figure to supply to teams before March 9, which means all should at least prepare for the possibility of getting more time before facing the franchise tag deadline.