TAMPA — Jamel Dean has emerged as one of the NFL’s top young cornerbacks, allowing a completion percentage of only 51.95 over the past two seasons.
In fact, the 26-year-old Dean is ranked fifth in the league among players set to become unrestricted free agents in March, by Pro Football Focus. He is behind only Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, Eagles defensive lineman Javon Hargrave and Bengals safety Jessie Bates.
As the two-week window opened Tuesday for teams to apply the franchise player tag, Dean would seem to be the likely candidate should the Bucs utilize that designation for the fourth year in a row.
Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett received the tag in 2020 after setting a franchise record with 19.5 sacks the previous season. He played under the one-year contract before signing a multi-year deal in 2021.
The Bucs made receiver Chris Godwin their franchise player the past two seasons. He signed a three-year, $60 million contract only nine days after getting the designation last year.
An exclusive franchise tag would guarantee the pending unrestricted free agent the average of the top-five salaries at their position for the year, but the player can’t negotiate with other teams. Since Dean is a cornerback, the Bucs would have to offer him a one-year, $18.16 million guaranteed contract.
There also is a non-exclusive franchise player tag, which allows players to deal with other teams. But if they receive an offer, the original team has the right to match it or receive two first-round picks from the signing team as compensation. The non-exclusive tag guarantees the player the average of the top five salaries at his position over the past five seasons.
The Bucs have used the franchise tag seven times since it was implemented in 1993 as part of the collective bargaining agreement. Godwin was the first player to receive it twice. The others were Barrett, tackle Paul Gruber (1993), defensive end Chidi Ahanotu (1999), receiver Antonio Bryant (2009) and kicker Connor Barth (2012).
The Bucs have 23 players set to become unrestricted free agents. Others that are valued include linebacker Lavonte David, cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and safety Mike Edwards. But none is rated as highly as Dean.
Complicating matters is the fact that the Bucs are $55 million over the $224.8 million salary cap for 2023. They must be compliant with that number by 4 p.m. March 15.
Dean would be a highly-coveted player if he were to make it to free agency. In fact, Spoctrac projects his market value to be at three years, $49.67 million or roughly $16.5 million per year.
A year ago, cornerback Carlton Davis was retained by signing a three-year, $44.5 million contract to avoid free agency. That gives Dean a pretty good parameter for a new deal with the Bucs. Last season, Dean started 15 games and had two interceptions and eight passes defensed.
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