Projecting long-term contracts for 2022's franchise-tagged players

Of the eight players to receive the franchise tag in 2022, two have signed extensions, leaving the long-term futures of six still up in the air.

If they don't ink new deals before July 15, these players will have to play 2022 on the franchise tag, with the chance to again hit free agency next year. We're going to project what extensions might look like for the players in question. But first, let's look at the contracts given to two of the tagged players this offseason:

And now, projected extensions for the remaining six tagged players:

NOTE: Contract information was sourced from Over The Cap and spotrac.com.

Dalton Schultz
Dallas Cowboys · TE

Age at start of 2022 season: 26

Experience: Four NFL seasons

Franchise tag salary: $10.931 million


The Cowboys' decision to trade Amari Cooper to Cleveland this offseason should make Schultz's presence even more important to Dak Prescott and the passing game. The tight end has been Prescott's security blanket over the last two seasons. On targets of less than 10 air yards, Schultz ranks highly in that span in catches (106, second) and receiving yards (939, third), and he's tied for third with seven TDs, per Next Gen Stats. Schultz is one of four tight ends with 140-plus receptions, 1,400-plus receiving yards and 10-plus receiving touchdowns over that span, and the backs of the others' jerseys bear names like Kelce, Waller and Andrews. 


Schultz set career highs in receptions (78), receiving yards (808) and receiving TDs (eight) last season, finishing in the top six at the position in each category. Among NFL tight ends, only Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce ran more routes or had more catches than Schultz in 2021. In fact, it was the best tight end season in Cowboys history by any human being not named Jason Witten. The latter is the only Dallas tight end to have more receptions or yards in a season than Schultz did in '21.


The Cowboys have used the tag in each of the last five seasons, applying it to Demarcus Lawrence in 2018 and 2019 and Prescott in 2020 and 2021. Both players signed long-term extensions before having to play on a second franchise tag, but Schultz would not have been the same caliber of free agent as either of them. Prior to Blake Jarwin's ACL injury in the opening week of 2020, Schultz worked as the team's TE2 in what was mostly a blocking capacity, where he's shown to be capable in the run game and, when called upon, in pass protection. He thrived in an offense that was so loaded with playmakers that defenses couldn't focus on him. We have yet to see how Schultz's production will be affected by what will presumably be an increase in defensive attention. He should, however, see a chunk of the targets made available both by Cooper's departure and the recently re-signed Michael Gallup's recovery from an ACL injury. 

Comparable contracts

Table inside Article
PlayerYear signedLengthTotal valueAverageGuaranteed
Dallas Goedert20214 years$57.0M$14.3M$14.9M
Hunter Henry20213 years$37.5M$12.5M$25.0M
Jonnu Smith20214 years$50.0M$12.5M$31.3M
Mark Andrews20214 years$56.0M$14.0M$30.1M

Schultz was set to be the best overall tight end on the market this offseason, and the other changes on Dallas' roster only increased his value to the Cowboys. He's far from an elite player at the position, and he does not possess the ceiling of a player like tight end Mike Gesicki, who was tagged by Miami. However, Schultz is a good receiver and more than serviceable as a blocker, while the fourth-round pick's rapport with Prescott serves as another selling point. The deals given to Henry and Smith by the Patriots and to Goedert by the Eagles all work in the favor of Schultz (and each of the tagged tight ends).

SCHULTZ'S PROJECTED CONTRACT: Four years, $54 million ($13.5 million APY), with $30 million fully guaranteed.

Mike Gesicki
Miami Dolphins · TE

Age at start of 2022 season: 26

Experience: Four NFL seasons

Franchise tag salary: $10.931 million


One of the most athletic tight ends in the NFL, Gesicki was the first tagged player to put pen to paper this offseason. After he put his physical prowess on full display at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, Miami selected him 42nd overall in that year's draft, and his receiving yards total has increased in each of his four NFL seasons since. The former Nittany Lion has been the team's second-leading receiver in each of the past three seasons. 


The list of tight ends to have accumulated more receiving yards than Gesicki over 2020 and 2021 is impressively small, consisting only of Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, Darren Waller and George Kittle. Gesicki, Kelce and Andrews are also the only players at the position with 700-plus receiving yards in each of the past two seasons. Gesicki is a bully at the catch point who has paced the position in tight-window receiving yards (328) since 2020, according to Next Gen Stats, while also leading in contested catches (61) over that span, per Pro Football Focus.


The Dolphins are not paying Gesicki for his blocking acumen. Last season, he spent a greater percentage of his offensive snaps either out wide or in the slot (79.1%, or 620 of 784) than any other tight end, and he tied Kyle Pitts for the most snaps out wide (218) among TEs. Gesicki is a flex tight end who does his best work split from the formation. It would be nice to see him take the next step and join the upper echelon of pass-catchers at the position. The addition of Tyreek Hill and Cedrick Wilson to a receiver corps that already featured Jaylen Waddle and Devante Parker should mean Gesicki will see one-on-one coverage for the foreseeable future. 

Comparable contracts

Table inside Article
PlayerYear signedLengthTotal valueAverageGuaranteed
Dallas Goedert20214 years$57.0M$14.3M$14.9M
Hunter Henry20213 years$37.5M$12.5M$25.0M
Jonnu Smith20214 years$50.0M$12.5M$31.1M
Mark Andrews20214 years$56.0M$14.0M$30.1M

Gesicki is an example of the new breed of tight end, which functions more like a big slot receiver than an in-line blocker. Gesicki doesn't give you much as the latter -- his ability as a pass-catcher is what makes him valuable to the Dolphins. The contracts that the AFC East-rival Patriots handed Henry and Smith last year did a service to all tight ends hoping to cash in now. Whether or not the Dolphins plan to ultimately stick with Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback, Gesicki should be a part of Miami's plans for years to come.

GESICKI'S PROJECTED CONTRACT: Four years, $56.0 million ($14.0 million APY), with $30 million fully guaranteed.

David Njoku
Cleveland Browns · TE

Age at start of 2022 season: 26

Experience: Five NFL seasons

Franchise tag salary: $10.931 million


Njoku stands at an intersection between promise and production. Since being drafted in the first round in 2017, he's failed to make much of a statistical mark, with his best numbers coming in Baker Mayfield's rookie year (56 catches, 639 yards) in 2018. Njoku has not reached the 40-catch mark or 500-yard mark in any season since. He's also never scored more than four touchdowns in any career season.


Njoku did flash more as a downfield threat in 2021, recording a career-high 249 receiving yards on targets of 10-plus air yards, per Next Gen Stats, while setting a new personal benchmark in yards per catch (13.2). The latter mark was good for fourth among tight ends, trailing only Kyle Pitts, Dallas Goedert and Rob Gronkowski.


The additions of Deshaun Watson and Amari Cooper, along with the release of Austin Hooper, should give the athletic Njoku plenty of opportunity to finally thrive in 2022. The tag suggests the Browns see Njoku as part of their future plans -- but buying themselves another season before they have to make a long-term decision is the right move. 


Comparable contracts

Table inside Article
PlayerYear signedLengthTotal valueAverageGuaranteed
Austin Hooper*20204 years$42.0M$10.5M$18.5M
Hunter Henry20213 years$37.5M$12.5M$25.0M
Jonnu Smith20214 years$50.0M$12.5M$31.1M
C.J. Uzomah20223 years$24.0M$8.0M$15.0M

*Hooper was released by the Browns from this contract this offseason.

Njoku will be an interesting case. His production is more aligned with the third or fourth level of the tight end market, while his ceiling is much higher. Watson could help Njoku take a leap, but if the Browns were to strike a long-term deal now, they would be paying purely for potential -- and there is little chance he would sign for anything less than the contract they gave Hooper in 2020. Njoku, on the other hand, might want to bet on himself, figuring he can earn more next year after breaking out with a new QB in 2022. Thus, it feels like the July 15 deadline for tagged players to reach an extension will pass without one for Njoku. However, if he were to be extended before then, the numbers below reflect what I think that would look like.

NJOKU'S PROJECTED CONTRACT: Four years, $48 million ($12.0 million APY), with $25 million fully guaranteed

Orlando Brown
Kansas City Chiefs · OT

Age at start of 2022 season: 26

Experience: Four NFL seasons

Franchise tag salary: $16.662 million


Brown requested out of Baltimore last offseason, seeking an opportunity at left tackle, a position his father, the late NFL veteran Orlando Brown, raised him to play. With the Ravens having handed former Pro Bowler Ronnie Stanley a significant extension in 2020 to man that spot for them, they shipped Brown to the Chiefs last April for a package that included a first- and third-round pick.


The 6-foot-8, 363-pound Brown has called himself "the worst athlete in the NFL." He might not be wrong about that, but he's still a quality left tackle who uses the tools he was given (size and length) to succeed in pass protection. Tasked in 2021 with protecting the blindside of arguably the NFL's most valuable asset, Patrick Mahomes, Brown turned in a solid first season with the Chiefs, adjusting from the bully ball played in Baltimore to the finesse attack of Kansas City. He's a plus run blocker, though not as physically dominant on the ground as one might expect, given his size. 


Brown has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last three seasons, earning the accolade at both the left and right tackle position. The Chiefs were not going to give up a first-round pick for a one-year rental -- either he was going to sign a long-term extension or be given the franchise tag this offseason. And whether or not he'll get the left tackle bag is a when not if proposition. It's reasonable to assume Brown's looming contract factored into the decision to trade receiver Tyreek Hill to Miami rather than pay him, as well.


Comparable contracts

Table inside Article
PlayerYear signedLengthTotal valueAverageGuaranteed
Trent Williams20216 years$138.1M$23.0M$40.1M
David Bakhtiari20204 years$92.0M$23.0M$61.5M
Laremy Tunsil20203 years$66.0M$22.0M$40.0M

Brown is a good, young left tackle, and ensuring the protection of Mahomes -- under contract through the 2031 season -- would seem to be a priority in Kansas City. If Brown is willing, I could see the Chiefs attempting to sign him to a contract in line with that of Williams', in terms of length. Brown's situation recalls that of Tunsil, who reset the market at 25 years old with the deal he was given by the Texans, before being surpassed by two veterans, Bakhtiari (29 when he signed that pact with Green Bay) and then Williams (32 when he signed with San Francisco).

BROWN'S PROJECTED CONTRACT: Six years, $145 million ($24 million APY), with $65 million fully guaranteed.

Cam Robinson
Jacksonville Jaguars · OT

Age at start of 2022 season: 26

Experience: Five NFL seasons

Franchise tag salary: $16.662 million


One year ago, the Jaguars tagged Robinson, then drafted Trevor Lawrence first overall. After a tumultuous 2021 season, Jacksonville entered the offseason knowing it would again make the No. 1 overall draft choice -- and that it must continue to protect the franchise's biggest asset (Lawrence). For one of their first major moves, the Jags once again tagged Robinson.


Robinson has performed below expectations in Jacksonville, especially since the progress made during his promising 2017 rookie campaign was derailed by an ACL tear two games into 2018. However, the fact of the matter is, when push comes to block, 26-year-old tackles with over 60 career starts aren't just sitting around in free agency. 


For all of the flak he's received, Robinson has been the team's starting left tackle (when healthy) since Day 1 of his career. Opposite bookend Jawaan Taylor, who's also started since Week 1 of his rookie season, in 2019, has allowed the second-most pressures (133) in the NFL over that span, per PFF. Robinson, meanwhile, has allowed 116 pressures since 2019, seventh-most in the league. Still, Robinson is coming off his best season, according to PFF, posting career highs in overall (67.4) and pass-blocking (76.6) grades. He allowed just one sack in 539 pass-protection snaps.


Comparable contracts

Table inside Article
PlayerYear signedLengthTotal valueAverageGuaranteed
Kolton Miller20213 years$54.0M$18.0M$25.0M
Garett Bolles20204 years$68.0M$17.0M$21.0M
Taylor Decker20204 years$60.0M$15.0M$29.0M
D.J. Humphries20203 years$43.8M$14.6M$29.0M

The Jaguars' second consecutive use of the tag could be an indication that they'll pass on an offensive tackle with the first overall draft choice. Still, what they do on April 28 could impact whether they try to work on a new deal with Robinson or just have him play out the 2022 season on the tag. Notably, Jacksonville also has tackle Walker Little, drafted in the second round last year, on the roster. Robinson isn't an ideal building block for an offensive line, especially for a unit that struggled mightily to protect a rookie quarterback last season. If a deal gets done, it could put Robinson near the top 10 in salary, but it's hard to see Jacksonville committing much more than that.

ROBINSON'S PROJECTED CONTRACT: Three years, $43.5 million ($14.5 million APY), with $25 million fully guaranteed.

Jessie Bates
Cincinnati Bengals · FS

Age at start of 2022 season: 25

Experience: Four NFL seasons

Franchise tag salary: $12.911 million


Bates is, without question, one of the league's best young safeties. He's also one of the most important players on Cincinnati's roster, aside from QB Joe Burrow.


In 2020, Bates had his best season as a professional. He recorded his third straight season with three interceptions while setting a career high in passes defensed with 15. According to PFF, Bates was the best safety in football, leading the position in overall grade (90.1), forced incompletions (12), and passer rating allowed in coverage (42.3, minimum 25 targets) that season.


Bates failed to replicate his previous success during the regular season last year. However, he logged two interceptions and six passes defensed in four playoff games, including a pick in Super Bowl LVI against the Rams. PFF graded Bates as the best secondary player in the playoffs (90.0 overall grade). He also may have had his best season against the run in 2021. Bates thrives most as a center fielder or playing deep halves, but he's a scheme-versatile safety that can play in any shell.  


Bates really hoped to get a new contract done after the 2020 season and admitted that we would be playing "a little pissed off" in 2021. After another season, this one as a team captain for a Bengals team that reached the Super Bowl, Bates has reiterated both his desire to stay in Cincinnati and to not play on the franchise tag. If their intent is to keep Bates (and it should be), the Bengals would be wise to sign him sooner rather than later. Pushing extensions down the line tends to ultimately inflate the cost for teams; as more deals get signed and the cap increases in future years, so does a player's price tag. 


Comparable contracts

Table inside Article
PlayerYear signedLengthTotal valueAverageGuaranteed
Jamal Adams20214 years$70.0M$17.5M$21.0M
Justin Simmons20214 years$61.0M$15.3M$32.1M
Budda Baker20204 years$59.0M$14.8M$22.1M
Kevin Byard20195 years$70.5M$14.1M$25.2M

Bates' new deal will surely place him among the top tier of safeties. Adams' contract with the Seahawks is currently an outlier; one could even make the argument that Adams, who functions more like a linebacker on the field, is hardly a safety at all. Bates says he's not worried about being the NFL's highest-paid safety, and he understands the inherent risks of playing on the tag. Head coach Zac Taylor recognizes that the fifth-year pro is a "big part of what [the Bengals] do."

Expect this deal to get done before the July 15 deadline. The Bengals typically only guarantee a player's signing bonus in their contracts (and, at times, a first-year roster bonus for cap purposes). However, Bates is repped by David Mulugheta and Athletes First, who just got Deshaun Watson the most guaranteed money in NFL history. This projection is based on previous guarantees given out by the Bengals.

BATES' PROJECTED CONTRACT: Five years, $80 million ($16.0 million APY), with $30 million fully guaranteed.

Follow Anthony Holzman-Escareno on Twitter @FrontOfficeNFL.

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