Teams who use the franchise tag are typically trying to buy themselves more time to negotiate a new contract or keep an elite player around for one more year. When you’re not in a position where free agency demands that you keep a player and/or negotiations are souring, there’s just not much in the way of a good reason to use it, given the sometimes prohibitive one year cost of doing so.
As Adnan Ikic wrote this morning, the Falcons have only used the franchise tag three times, and it’s doubtful they’ll use it this year. The biggest name free agents the Falcons have are Russell Gage, Foye Oluokun, Younghoe Koo and Cordarrelle Patterson, and all the positions those players play have eye-popping guaranteed, single season contracts associated with them. From Adnan’s article, courtesy of Over The Cap:
Wide Receiver: $19,127,000
Running Back: $12,536,000
Gage has had a hell of a career in Atlanta. He’s 23rd all-time in franchise history in receptions, 24th in yardage, and 29th in touchdown receptions despite playing just four years in Atlanta. Given that he was a sixth round pick and didn’t really step into a starting role until about a season-and-a-half into his career, that production has been remarkable. The Falcons would be remiss not to consider re-signing him, especially if Gage is as interested as he says he is in returning. That said, he’s not an elite #1 wide receiver in any NFL offense, and is more like a quality #2 or a very good #3 for the Falcons. You simply aren’t going to even flirt with the idea of paying $19 million in one season for that, especially when you’re cap-strapped.
Oluokun is a player the Falcons seem very interested in bringing back, but his situation is similar to Gage’s. He stepped into a full-time starting role in 2020 after two seasons with the team and has been a fine-to-terrific starter depending on the week, and the Falcons value his leadership abilities and on-field performance. He’s not yet—and may never be—an elite linebacker, though, and the Falcons will be interested in getting a long-term pact done to have him locked in as a starter for multiple years. They won’t want to fork over nearly $17.5 million this year so they can negotiate after what might be a better 2022 season.
Koo, meanwhile, is a restricted free agent. A first-round tender would cost them just a little bit more than the franchise number, which means there’s a remote possibility the Falcons could try to save a buck by slapping the franchise tag on their kicker. It seems doubtful that any team would try to swipe Koo if the Falcons put a second round tender on him, however, and that’s just under $4 million. Again, I can’t see it happening.
Finally, there’s Patterson. Atlanta would have to think he could be a full-time lead option in the backfield and a capable receiver to consider spending north of $12.5 million million on him this season, and given the way his production lessened late in the year and this team’s laundry list of needs, there’s no way they can justify that kind of one-year hit in a season where they’re going to have to scrape and scramble to truly contend. It’s not going to happen.
Nobody else merits mention here, and I think that says it all. The Falcons simply don’t have the cap space, the impending free agent class, or the sort of urgent need to win big right this second that would demand they use a franchise tag on anyone. I don’t think we’ll see them use it.