Ranking the Denver Broncos and Sean Payton's top franchise tag candidates

Zac Stevens Avatar
February 19, 2024

On Tuesday, Feb. 20, NFL teams may begin placing the franchise tag on players. Each team has two weeks to place a franchise tag on a player leading up to the deadline on Mar. 5 at 2:00 p.m. MST.

NFL teams are allowed to use the franchise tag on one of their upcoming unrestricted free agents, which keeps that player from hitting free agency. The franchise tag acts as a one-year contract and also gives the team and the player the opportunity to negotiate a long-term deal leading up to the season.

Over the years, the Denver Broncos have used the franchise tag on a number of players, including Justin Simmons, Von Miller, Demaryius Thomas, Ryan Clady and Matt Prater.

Last year, the Broncos decided to not use it, which led to Dre’Mont Jones leaving in free agency and signing with the Seattle Seahawks.

Will Sean Payton and the Broncos consider using the franchise tag this year? There aren’t many options, but there are the few players Denver would consider tagging.

*All estimated costs are based off Spotrac.com estimates

1. Wil Lutz

Position: Kicker

Estimated franchise tag cost: $5.6 million*

Franchise tag likelihood: Quite possible

How is a kicker the Broncos’ top option for the franchise tag?

Wil Lutz isn’t just a kicker. He’s Sean Payton’s kicker.

Just look at Payton’s words and actions when it comes to Lutz to see how he truly views the 29-year-old kicker. Right when Lutz became available before the start of last season, the Broncos jumped all over the opportunity, trading with the New Orlean Saints to reunite Payton with Lutz.

Throughout the season, including the lows of Lutz’s year, Payton always had his kicker’s back.

The $5.9 million franchise tag would make Lutz the second-highest paid kicker in the NFL, only trailing Baltimore Ravens’ Justin Tucker.

There’s no reason to believe Payton will let Lutz leave Denver this offseason. If contract negotiations between the two sides aren’t finalized before the Mar. 5 franchise tag deadline, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all for the Broncos to tag Lutz to ensure he is on the team this year.

2. Lloyd Cushenberry

Position: Center

Estimated franchise tag cost: $19.9 million*

Franchise tag likelihood: Unlikely

Lloyd Cushenberry began hitting his stride as a player in 2023. Ideally, the Broncos don’t want to let one of the best up-and-coming centers leave in free agency. That’s why the franchise tag could make sense.

However, the price of the franchise tag doesn’t make any sense for Denver.

Unfortunately for the Broncos, there is just one franchise tag number for all offensive lineman. It isn’t broken up between the different positions along the offensive line. Because of that, the near $20 million price tag would be way too expensive to use on a center.

If Denver were to franchise tag Cushenberry, it would make him the highest-paid center by average salary by far.

Jason Kelce is set to be the highest-paid center in the NFL in 2024, making an average of $14.25 million. If he retires, the next highest-paid center is Detroit Lions’ Frank Ragnow at $13.5 million.

If the Broncos franchise tag Cushenberry, it would give Lloyd a significant advantage in contract negotiations. Due to the franchise tag price, it would not make sense for the Broncos to tag their talented center.

3. Josey Jewell

Position: Inside linebacker

Estimated franchise tag cost: $22.8 million*

Franchise tag likelihood: Extremely unlikely

Much like how all offensive lineman are under the same franchise tag price, regardless of the position they play on the offensive line, linebackers are the same. The franchise tag groups outside and inside linebackers together in one number.

Because of that, similar to Cushenberry, it wouldn’t make any financial sense for the Broncos to use the franchise tag on Josey Jewell.

The reason the franchise tag price is almost $23 million is because of the elite outside linebackers in the NFL that are making over $25 million per year.

In fact, if the Broncos were to franchise tag Jewell, he would be the NFL’s highest-paid inside linebacker, jumping over Roquan Smith’s $20 million per season. Jewell is a quality starting inside backer, but not the best in the NFL.

If the Broncos want to keep Jewell, they will sign him to a long-term deal, not use the franchise tag.

Other upcoming free agents

  • S P.J. Locke
  • CB K’Waun Williams
  • TE Adam Trautman
  • DL Mike Purcell
  • OT Cameron Fleming
  • FB Michael Burton
  • CB Fabian Moreau
  • DL Jonathan Harris
  • LB Justin Strnad

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