Kirk Cousins, Le'Veon Bell, Trumaine Johnson to play under franchise tag in 2017  7/17/2017 11:10:36 PM   Sean Wagner-McGough

Earlier this offseason, seven of the NFL's best players were hit with the franchise tag, meaning they had until 4 p.m. ET on Monday to reach a long-term contract agreement with their respective teams. If they failed to do so, they'd play under the lucrative, but short-term franchise tag. That deadline has passed. 

In all, four players agreed to long-term contracts while three players are stuck under the tag. The four players who agreed to multiyear deals are:

Now, let's take a closer look at the three players who didn't reach a long-term agreement, starting with everyone's favorite Vine (RIP) superstar, Kirk Cousins .

Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins preferred to play under the franchise tag. USATSI

For a second straight season, Cousins will play under the franchise tag, but he shouldn't be too upset about it.

Under the franchise tag, Cousins will make $23.9 million this year. Last year, he made $19.9 million. So in all, Cousins will have made nearly $44 million in two years by accepting the the franchise tag. That's really not all that bad. 

Washington, on the other hand, is not too happy about this development. Shortly after the deadline passed, team president Bruce Allen released a totally not desperate statement in which the franchise attempted to portray Cousins as someone who doesn't want to play for the team for life.

Our goal was to sign Kirk to a long-term contract with the final objective of having him finish his career with the Redskins.

On May 2nd, right after the draft, we made Kirk an offer that included the highest fully guaranteed amount upon signing for a quarterback in NFL history ($53 million) and guaranteed a total of $72 million for injury. The deal would have made him at least the second highest-paid player by average per year in NFL history.

But despite our repeated attempts, we have not received any offer from Kirk's agent this year. 

Kirk has made it clear that he prefers to play on a year-to-year basis. While we would have liked to work out a long-term contract before this season, we accept his decision.

Here's the real reason why Cousins turned down that offer of $53 million guaranteed:

Smart move by Cousins, who is open to signing a long-term deal with Washington after the season, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Or could Cousins eventually reunite with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco?

It's worth noting, however, that Cousins is entering the 2017 season with a worse supporting cast than usual, with both DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon gone. If Cousins' numbers take a hit, he won't get that Andrew Luck type of deal he's likely looking for.

Since 2015, Cousins has completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 9,083 yards, 54 touchdowns, 23 interceptions and a 99.3 passer rating.

LeVeon Bell

LeVeon Bell still hasn't signed his tender. USATSI

Le'Veon Bell is one of the best running backs in the NFL. He's right up there with David Johnson . In 12 regular-season games last year, Bell accumulated 1,884 yards from scrimmage. In the Pittsburgh Steelers ' first two playoff games, he rushed for 337 yards. 

Yet the Steelers didn't hand him a long-term deal. 

Under the franchise tag, Bell will earn $12.1 million in 2017 ... assuming he signs it. 

Bell hasn't signed his tender, which means he's technically not under contract. And that means he doesn't have to show up for training camp.

Back in February, our Joel Corry -- a former agent -- explained why the franchise tag might be the best thing to happen to Bell. From his story:

Any competent agent tries to take the average of franchising a player twice and use the number as a fair approximation of a long-term deal when it's a realistic possibility that his client will receive the designation to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent. It's going to be a tough sell with Bell since a contract averaging in the $13.5 million neighborhood doesn't reflect the state of the top portion of the running back market. Nonetheless, the possibility of Pittsburgh putting a franchise tag on Bell can be used as ammunition to increase the floor on a long-term deal.

It wouldn't be ideal but Bell's best way to maximize his compensation might be playing under at least one franchise tag if the right deal doesn't materialize before the July 15 deadline for reaching multiyear contracts with franchise players. There would be risk because a big payday could go out the window with another serious injury like in 2015. Bell has only a played a full 16-game regular season once, in 2014. He missed the playoffs that season with a hyperextended right knee.

Bell's window of opportunity for a massive contract would still exist in 2018 at 26 even though running backs have a shorter shelf life than other positions. He could continue to erase any off-field concerns the Steelers might still have over the next year by waiting. Pittsburgh would have more pressure than this offseason to reach an agreement with Bell even if there is a second franchise tag because a third one would be the highest number at any position. 

It's risky, but if Bell can make it through the season unscathed and put up the MVP-caliber numbers he did last year, he should be in line for a mega contract following the season. Regardless, that's a question for next offseason. For now, Steelers fans can take comfort in the fact that they're set to enter the 2017 season with their offense -- Ben Roethlisberger , Antonio Brown , Martavis Bryant  and Bell -- fully loaded. 

If there's a team that has a chance to take down the New England Patriots in the AFC, it's probably the Steelers. For that to happen, they'll need Bell to be at his best.

Trumaine Johnson

Trumaine Johnson is quietly one of the game's best corners. USATSI

Like Cousins, Johnson is entering his second straight season under the franchise tag. Last year, when the Los Angeles Rams chose to tag Johnson over Janoris Jenkins , he made $13.9 million. This year, he'll make $16.7 million.

It sounds like there never was a chance for the sides to reach a long-term agreement. As ESPN's Alden Gonzalez explained, the Rams are switching to Wade Phillips' new scheme, Johnson struggled last year (one interception) after Jenkins left for New York, and the Rams have other contracts they're prioritizing.

Don't feel too bad for Johnson, though. He'll be the highest-paid cornerback in 2017, per Spotrac.

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