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Feb 23, 2021

Monday, Mar 08, 2021 - 19:43:44

Playing tag is no kids' game for NFL teams

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NFL teams could begin playing tag on Monday, and it's no kids' game for the 32 teams.

Applying franchise and even transition tags to players can have major ramifications on a team's present and future. That was never more of a consideration than this year, with the salary cap decreasing for now by $18 million.

That's the first time the cap has gone down, which is due to lost revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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"It has always gone up," says Bill Polian, a Pro Football Hall of Fame executive. "So have the expectations of the players and agents. This is the first time this is not happening. That is a sea change."

While this mini-tidal wave likely is only for the upcoming season — the league's broadcast deals should be solidified soon and will bolster future caps — it certainly could have a significant impact.

Consider the Super Bowl champs. The Buccaneers don't relish losing the likes of linebackers Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David, wide receiver Chris Godwin, running back Leonard Fournette, tight end Rob Gronkowski or defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Look for one of them, probably sackmaster Barrett or dynamic pass catcher Godwin, to get tagged for a one-year, guaranteed contract. Barrett was a franchise player in 2020 and would get about $19 million if tagged again. Godwin would get nearly $16 million.

Bucs coach Bruce Arians said after winning the NFL title that the team would find ways to keep key players. It will take some financial imagination.

"I’m very, very confident," Arians said. "I have all the trust in the world in (GM Jason Licht) and what he will do. There will be dollars involved, but I think this group is so close that sometimes dollars don’t matter. But we’re going to do everything we can to get the dollars right, too."

The biggest name — if not the best player — who might wind up tagged is Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. His ankle injury early last season muddled the picture in Dallas, but the team insists Prescott is the guy, even if it means a second straight franchise player designation — at nearly $38 million.

Polian, now an analyst for SiriusXM NFL Radio, notes that the higher-end players rarely reach total freedom.

"The ‘A’ players don’t get to free agency," he says. "So what is out there on the market, even in this untoward year, are going to be 'B’ players looking for ‘A’ players' money."

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Other positions and who could wind up tagged:

RUNNING BACK

Aaron Jones, Packers — Tagging runners sometimes seems wise because long-term contracts at such a punishingly physical position aren't attractive for teams. Jones is a very attractive guy for the Packers because of his versatility, production, age (26) and strong relationship with MVP Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay doesn't have much cap room, though, and the franchise tag will be approximately $11 million.

WIDE RECEIVER

Kenny Golladay, Lions — The $15.81 million cost as of now isn't prohibitive for this team. Golladay is a genuine No. 1 wideout and would get plenty of attention on the open market. New QB Jared Goff had a talented group of targets in Los Angeles and sure could benefit from Golladay sticking around.

Allen Robinson, Bears — When healthy, Robinson is a stud. Like Golladay, he would be coveted as a free agent, and he's in his prime at 27. The uncertain quarterback situation in Chicago makes it likely Robinson leaves if he doesn't get tagged.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon, Ravens — A pair of solid, sometimes dynamic defenders, and one of them probably will leave. Judon was tagged in 2020, so he would be due at least $20 million for next season.

Leonard Williams, Giants — The 2015 first-round pick by the Jets has found a home and his game with the other New York team. The Giants have professed their strong desire to keep Williams. Coming off his best year, he could get tagged a second straight time.

LINEBACKERS

Haason Reddick, Cardinals — This is a difficult one because Reddick was mediocre in his previous seasons before being moved outside and flourishing. Was it an aberration or is Reddick the real thing for Arizona? Paying him about $14.5 million for one season to find out might be worth it.

Pittsburgh Steelers

LB Bud Dupree, Steelers — Pittsburgh's tag went to Dupree last year and he would cost $19 million in '21 for a team so cash strapped it is pondering not bringing back Ben Roethlisberger for one more season. Dupree figures to move on.

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No. 16 Virginia back again as top seed for ACC Tournament

It’s been a down year by the Atlantic Coast Conference’s own lofty standards, lacking the usual set of highly ranked teams and star-laden rosters.

Instead, the league enters its tournament with no clear favorite or headlining team, just plenty of unpredictability in a chaotic season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

No. 16 Virginia is the top seed as the five-day tournament opens Tuesday in Greensboro, North Carolina. No. 15 Florida State and No. 22 Virginia Tech as the only other AP Top 25 teams, while tradition-rich national powers North Carolina (a 6-seed) and Duke (a 10-seed) are further down the standings.

Throw in an unbalanced schedule with teams playing different numbers of games after postponements-turned-cancellations, and it’s unclear exactly what to expect just two seasons after the league had three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

“A lot of people say, ‘Well, it’s a down year,'” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said Monday. “Perhaps it’s not been as strong as it has been, but it’s still good basketball. There’s a bunch of teams that absolutely are capable.”

As Louisville coach Chris Mack said he told his team after Saturday’s loss to Virginia: “I don’t think that there is a dominating team in this league.”

Look at the top seeds for proof.

The Cavaliers (17-6, 13-4 ACC) won the regular-season race to claim the top seed for the fifth time in eight seasons and are chasing Bennett’s third tournament title. Yet they recently had a three-game skid that included a 21-point loss to FSU, only to see Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles (15-5, 11-4) stumble by losing two of their last three.

Then there are the Hokies (15-5, 9-4), who played more games against the bottom seven seeds (eight) than against the top eight (five).

“It’s been even more unbalanced and uneven and trying to figure it out is crazy,” Bennett said, “So heading into this, intrigue, mystery — who knows?”

Some other things to know about this week’s ACC Tournament:

HOKIES’ LAYOFF

Virginia Tech faces the challenge of returning from an extended layoff.

When they play in Thursday’s quarterfinals, the third-seeded Hokies will have played only twice in nearly five weeks due to five cancellations tied to COVID-19 protocols. Virginia Tech hasn’t played since beating Wake Forest on Feb. 27 after having two games canceled because of contact tracing.

FINISHING STRONG

Georgia Tech (15-8, 11-6) is nearing its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2020. The Yellow Jackets have won six straight and own the No. 4 seed, earning a bye into Thursday’s quarterfinals.

“We’re going in there to win it, so just having this momentum behind is us just great,” said senior forward Moses Wright, named ACC player of the year by the league Monday.

ON THE BUBBLE

The league looks positioned for seven NCAA bids, including No. 5 seed Clemson, No. 6 seed UNC and No. 7 seed Louisville. The biggest bubble uncertainty centers on eighth-seeded Syracuse and ninth-seeded N.C. State ahead of their second-round meeting Wednesday.

The Orange (15-8, 9-7) swept two meetings, though the Wolfpack (13-9, 9-8) won five straight to close the schedule.

LONG ROAD

Duke has a record 21 tournament titles yet opens on the day reserved for the lowest seeds.

The Blue Devils (11-11, 9-9) are on a three-game skid entering Tuesday’s game against 15th-seeded Boston College. They likely must win out to avoid missing the NCAAs for the first time since 1995.

No team has won five ACC Tournament games in five days.

“If you try to look at the whole thing, it can become daunting,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Someone’s going to say, ‘That’s never been done, you can’t do that, you’re going to be tired even if you win.’ You’re going to hear a whole bunch of that. And I hope we do, because that means that we’re winning.”

TIP-INS

This is the first year none of the four North Carolina-based teams are among the top five seeds. … The tournament champion hasn’t won the national championship since 2010 and has reached only one Final Four since. The last three ACC teams to win the NCAA title (Duke 2015, UNC 2017 and Virginia 2019) lost in the ACC semifinals. … Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes coaches his first tournament game Tuesday when the 14th-seeded Demon Deacons face 11th-seeded Notre Dame. … No. 13 seed Miami (8-16, 4-15) played a league-high 19 games of a 20-game conference slate.

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AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz in Virginia contributed to this report.

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More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/College-basketball and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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