NFL sources on why Jets using franchise tag on Marcus Maye is the smart and expected play

Marcus Maye interception Seahawks

One of the reasons the Jets were willing to trade Jamal Adams six months ago was that they had safety Marcus Maye ready to step into a bigger role. Now Maye is the one looking for a huge contract.

He may have to wait.

Maye is the Jets’ lone candidate to get the “franchise tag” when the two-week window to use it opens on Tuesday, and several NFL sources believe the Jets will use it on him – at a cost of about $10-11 million — to keep him away from free agency. That could buy them some time to reach a long-term deal – though there’s no indication they’re close to that, at the moment.

More to the point, it’s also the fiscally responsible thing to do for a player whose long-term value isn’t really clear. Maye played well last season, in his first without Adams by his side, but he’s going to want to be paid like one of the top safeties in the game – especially from the Jets, since they’re sitting on a mountain of salary cap space. In recent years, safety contracts have spiraled to the point where the top ones make an average of $14 million per year.

It’s hard to argue Maye is worth that much.

“Maye is a really good player, but I don’t know that I’d put him up there with the top five or 10 safeties in the game,” said an NFL scout. “He might get there, especially with a better team around him and in (new coach Robert Saleh’s) defense. But I don’t think he’s there yet. He hasn’t had that kind of impact.”

It’s hard to say if that’s the prevailing thought around the league, or if there would be some team willing to pay him that kind of money. But the Jets can’t let him test the market to find out. The temptation for Maye to leave a team where he’s known nothing but losing would undoubtedly be great. And Maye is currently the only potential impact player the Jets have on defense aside from defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, so they’d be crazy to let him go without a fight at all.

That’s why the tag makes so much sense for the Jets. But it also makes some sense for Maye, who turns 28 a week before free agency begins, because this free-agent market is expected to a lot different than it’s been in previous years.

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With the salary cap expected to drop from $198.2 million to about $185 million – just the second drop in the history of the cap – several teams will be forced to cut valuable players just to get under the cap. That could mean a flooded free agent market. And with more players available and fewer teams with lots of cap space to spend, the big money might not trickle down below the top tier.

That’s why there’s an expectation around the NFL that a lot of good players will settle for one-year deals in free agency, hoping to try their luck again when the cap (presumably) rises in 2022.

“That’s where the real money is going to be,” said one NFL agent. “So if you’re a guy like Marcus, not in the top tier, you might not find that big contract this year. You might have to take a one-year deal, bet on yourself, and take your shot again next year. That’s the same as getting the franchise tag, only the tag is probably worth more.”

The salary cap isn’t officially set yet, and might not be for another week or so, so don’t expect the Jets or any team to make an immediate decision on the franchise or transition tags. They have until March 9 to use it or lose it. The free agent signing period begins one week later on March 17.


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