The most interesting decisions made on franchise-tag deadline day concerned the players who weren't tagged. Sheldon Richardson, Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins are all set to hit the open market next week as top-five overall free agents because of their rare combination of youth, talent and previous production.
There are red flags associated with each player, however -- otherwise, they wouldn't be getting to free agency in the first place.
The Jaguars failing to tag Robinson was the most surprising decision. He's coming off a torn ACL that kept him out for almost all of 2017, and before that, he posted an erratic 2016 season, but his 1,400-yard campaign in '15 at age 22 showed a true No. 1 receiver skill set. The Jaguars have spent so freely on other teams' stars that it must be discomfiting for general manager David Caldwell to let one of his best offensive draft picks (made in the second round in 2014) walk away.
Perhaps Jacksonville can still get a deal done before March 14, when Robinson's agents can begin officially negotiating with other teams, but the siren call of free agency is tough to ignore when it's so close. The Bears, Redskins, 49ers and Panthers are among the teams that could be in the market for a vertical receiver.
The same teams could be in on Watkins. In Rams general manager Les Snead's perfect world, he probably would have re-signed safety Lamarcus Joyner to a contract extension and used the tag on Watkins to give him another year in coach Sean McVay's offense. But this world is imperfect -- all men are fallible, and the Rams may wind up getting only 593 yards of production (Watkins' yardage total in 2017) out of the second-round pick they sent to the Bills (along with cornerback E.J. Gaines) for Watkins last offseason. Joyner is just too valuable to risk losing, so Snead placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on him Tuesday. Joyner's dynamic versatility and toughness epitomizes everything the Rams are looking for from a defender. Re-signing Watkins to a one-year deal would be ideal for the Rams, but a bigger offer looms elsewhere. Snead may have to settle for a compensatory pick a year from now as the final piece to the Watkins trade.
Like the Rams, the Seahawks could wind up getting very little for a high-risk trade made before last season. Seattle sent a second-round pick and wideout Jermaine Kearseto the Jets for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Now he'll enter free agency as perhaps the biggest boom-or-bust option available.
Way back in 2014, Richardson was a game-wrecking talent, but maturity concerns and good-not-great production could scare teams away. Of all the players who didn't get tagged by Tuesday's deadline to do so, Richardson appears to have the best chance to re-sign with his own team before free agency starts. To accomplish that, Seattle may first need to free up cap space by trading away defensive end Michael Bennett. With less than a week before teams can negotiate with free agents, Tuesday's franchise-tag deadline was only a tremor ahead of what should be some earth-moving transactions to follow.
Other takeaways from tag deadline day
1) Who was tagged? Only five players received the franchise tag: Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry, Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner, Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell and Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. Bell was the only one to receive the exclusive tag, meaning that he can't speak with any other teams about signing elsewhere.
Since the cost of signing away a franchise player is two first-round picks, Lawrence, Joyner and Ansah are locked into their current teams, for all intents and purposes. Landry was given permission to seek a trade by the Dolphins, a move that Miami almost needs to make happen because of the team's salary-cap situation.
2) Rough waters ahead for Steelers, Bell: Look for the Steelers' stare-down with Bell to last throughout the offseason. NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala reported Tuesday that the two sides still have significant contractual ground to make up. She also wondered if this year's negotiations could get uglier than they did a year ago. A teammate of Bell's told Kinkhabwala that he could see Bell skipping a game or two to prove a point.
3) Revisiting Chicago's decision not to use option on Fuller: The Bearsplaced the transition tag on cornerback Kyle Fuller on Tuesday, striking a compromise between letting him hit free agency and using the costlier franchise tag. If Fuller signs the one-year offer, he'll earn $12.971 million. It's quite possible that Fuller will work out a long-term deal elsewhere, in which case the Bears will have an opportunity to match the offer. Fuller has undergone a roller-coaster career that has included a fine rookie season in 2014, some slumps and a 2016 campaign in which he didn't take a snap. The Bearsopenly questioned Fuller's desire to play, which contributed to the decision last offseason not to pick up the fifth-year option for the former first-round pick.
Using the option -- which is available for all first-round picks -- on Fuller for 2018 would have saved the Bears money and trouble, with relatively little risk attached. The terms of fifth-year options league-wide are so team-friendly that I believe teams should pick them up as a matter of course. If a team believes that a player like Fuller has a chance to turn his career around, picking up the option is a low-risk, high-reward move. (Players can still be cut for performance-related reasons, although the option is guaranteed for injury.) If a team believes in the player enough to keep him on the roster, the fifth-year option protects the team from having to deal with situations like what the Bears currently face with Fuller.
4) Keenum still bound for free agency: There was some speculation at the NFL Scouting Combine that the Vikings could place the transition tag on quarterback Case Keenum. That didn't happen, making it less complicated for Minnesota to fully pursue Kirk Cousins on the open market. Keenum may have to wait for Cousins to sign somewhere before he can find a home. Even in free agency, Keenum seems destined to be a backup plan.