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Franchise tag or long-term deal? Deadline predictions


Players hit with the franchise tag have until Friday, July 15 to work out new deals with their respective clubs or else they'll have to play the 2016 season under their one-year pacts. We previously detailed which non-franchise-tag players were in line for big deals this summer, but with a week to go until the deadline, it's time to predict which of the tagged players will head into training camp on multi-year deals and which will have their eye on 2017.

The information is our best guess at the moment, culled from various sources with knowledge of the situation, published reports and good old-fashioned common sense.

Von Miller, pass rusher, Denver Broncos: YES. A re-set meeting is usually a good sign and shows that both sides are coming to the negotiating table with clear eyes for the first time in weeks. It would be highly unlikely that the Broncos -- who are 100 percent aware of what Von Miller wants -- would put themselves through the public aggravation of new talks if they weren't willing to budge on demands. (UPDATE: NFL Media's Mike Garafolo reports that Miller has rejected the Broncos' latest offer. The two sides are expected to continue negotiating through the weekend.) Miller has been pretty clear: He wants more than $38.5 million guaranteed fully at signing and wants the rest of his guaranteed money paid out in 2017, not 2018, similar to the deal signed recently by Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox. If the Broncos do not adhere to these demands, they will lose Miller. Miller has been vocal about sitting out the 2016 season absent a new deal. (If he were to do so, Denver couldn't hit him with the exclusive franchise tag again next spring.) Deadlines spur action and the Broncos have to decide if they want to legitimately defend their title or not.

Muhammad Wilkerson, defensive end, New York Jets: NO. Both sides still aren't talking, and barring a massive change of heart from general manager Mike Maccagnan (or Wilkerson, for that matter), we will be watching the opening practices of Jets camp without the team's best player present. The Jets are privately hoping Wilkerson, a New Jersey native who has been a good soldier throughout his career, will miss his teammates and the fans enough to make it back after a few protest days starting in late July. Wilkerson is hoping that, despite his broken leg at the end of last season, the Jets recognize that he is on par with (or better than) Cox, who turned the market on its head after inking a seven-year, $110.79 million deal with more than $60 million in guaranteed money. The sad part in all of this? Wilkerson deserves the money and has been promised a big-money deal by three different general managers now. According to one source close to the situation, the Jets were using Wilkerson's big pending deal as an excuse not to sign other free agents as early as 2013, when Rex Ryan was privately touting Wilkerson as the next Richard Seymour.

(UPDATE: NFL Media's Mike Garafolo revealed on last Friday's "NFL Total Access" that he talked with someone close to Wilkerson who said they expect the Jets to make one last-ditch offer this week.)

Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver, Chicago Bears: NO. Changed my mind from an initial prediction here. As NFL Media's Mike Garafolo -- our latest big free-agent acquisition -- noted on "NFL Total Access" this week, both sides are pretty far apart. Keenan Allen and Doug Baldwin both signed lucrative contracts last month, but in his mind, Jeffery sits in an echelon above those receivers (despite the fact that Chicago wanted to pay Jeffery about the same as Baldwin's $11.5 million/year average). At the moment, Jeffery is making the second-highest per-year salary for wide receivers (even though it is just a one-year deal). His $14,599,000 tag number is just a notch below A.J. Green's $15 million/year average.

Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Washington Redskins: NO. We've written all along that a long-term Kirk Cousins deal doesn't make sense right now, simultaneously wondering why there is such a fear of losing Cousins to the open market. Ask a decision-maker in football right now about the potential of Washington locking up Cousins before the deadline. The response you'll get? "What's the point?" The Redskins have the space (more than $11 million, according to the latest NFLPA records) and desperately need another 16 games to evaluate Cousins to ensure that his numbers from 2015 can be duplicated. Cousins was lights-out down the stretch last season and pushed Washington into the playoffs for the first time since Robert Griffin III's rookie season. Over his final eight games of the regular season, Cousins threw for 2,212 yards (with 19 touchdowns against two interceptions) and notched a 126.1 quarterback rating. In a playoff loss to the Packers, he threw for more than 300 yards and a touchdown with no picks. With Andrew Luck and his record-setting deal thumping the quarterback market this offseason, Cousins' floor has risen anyway. Why not ensure that he can do this year in and year out before committing the big bucks?

Eric Berry, safety, Kansas City Chiefs: YES. Despite recent reports that both sides are not talking, we forget how quickly last year's Justin Houston deal came together. Houston, after some initial doubts, inked a six-year, $101 million deal on July 15. (Our ace writer Kevin Patra had enough time to file his news piece just under the 4 p.m. deadline.) Another reason why the Chiefs might get the deal done? The team is getting a little tight against the salary cap. A current copy (July 8) of the league's salary-cap report has the team at $226,818 in cap space (Top 51), with just a few obvious cuts to give them breathing room. Berry is a face-of-the-franchise type of player who made a Pro Bowl after his heroic return from Hodgkin's lymphoma and deserves a long-term deal that will place him among the league's highest-paid safeties. It is difficult for Bob Sutton's defense to function properly without an ace like Berry calling the shots.

Trumaine Johnson, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams: NO. Initially, I figured Los Angeles would work out a long-term contract with the 26-year-old corner. That was before I realized there's no real motivation at this point. The Rams are in a miniature rebuild and, despite having more than $5 million in cap space, can comfortably coast through the 2016 season with Johnson as their highest cap hit on a one-year deal. Johnson hasn't started 16 games in either of the past two seasons and his 2015 campaign was by far his best (despite some very promising moments early in his career). This can be a final evaluation period and Johnson can cash in next winter, once the Rams clear some horrid contracts off their books.

Justin Tucker, kicker, Baltimore Ravens: NO. Another change from my initial prediction, which was based on Tucker's overwhelming confidence that a deal would get done. The Ravens' once-volcanic salary cap situation has calmed down over the spring and summer and the team is in a decent spot -- decent enough that it wouldn't be a terrifying prospect to have a kicker among its seven highest cap hits for 2016. As columnist John Eisenberg mentioned recently, the team also could be wary of a long-term kicker contract after signing Billy Cundiff to a five-year, $14.7 million deal that blew up in Baltimore's face in less than two years.

To see our original predictions, check out the bottom of our summer blockbuster deals post here.


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