The Green Bay Packers’ streak of not using a franchise tag will remain intact for at least another year. In 2021, the only serious contender for the tag among the Packers’ impending free agents was running back Aaron Jones, and general manager Brian Gutekunst suggested last week that the team was still considering tagging him. Doing so would have brought him back to Green Bay on a salary of about $8.5 million, with the exact amount being dependent on the final salary cap number for 2021.
However, that will not be happening. According to Adam Schefter, the Packers have not tagged Jones, setting him up to test the free agent market next week.
Jones and the Packers have had trouble settling on a long-term contract, despite discussions dating back into the 2020 season. The two sides were apparently too far apart on guaranteed money, with Jones looking for a bigger guarantee than the Packers were willing to provide. One potential sticking point for Green Bay on that subject is Jones’ size; according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the fact that Jones is on the lighter side for running backs — leading to concerns about his durability — is part of the reason the team wants to keep his guaranteed money lower.
Provided that the two sides do not come to an agreement in the next few days, Jones is set to cash in with a big payday, as he will be the best running back on this year’s free agent market. Unrestricted free agents may negotiate with their old teams at any time and must wait until Monday, March 15th to begin speaking with other teams, so the Packers have, practically speaking, six more days to try to come to a deal. However, they must still clear salary cap money off the books for 2021 in order to do so, with the team potentially being as much as $12 million over the cap.
The deadline for franchise tag decisions was set for Tuesday, March 9th at 4:00 PM Eastern time, and most teams made their tag decisions over the course of the day, with a few coming in over the weekend. The only player to receive a tag from an NFC North team is wide receiver Allen Robinson, whom the Bears tagged for a value of $18 million.
Interestingly, the NFL elected not to push back the tag deadline even though teams do not yet know the final salary cap number for 2021. That value is still under negotiation between the league and the NFL players union, meaning that the league forced teams to make their tag decisions a bit blindly in relation to exactly how much cap space they will have and the final tag numbers.