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Franchise tag signing deadline passes, 2019 free agency looks mighty interesting

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Le’Veon Bell, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Ezekiel Ansah all could hit free agency next year.

The last major date on the offseason calendar passed on Monday as teams had until then to sign franchise tagged players to contract extensions. Players who did not sign extensions by Monday will play the 2018 season on their one-year franchise tender and try and figure this all out again next year.

The three most notable tagged players were Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, Detroit Lions edge rusher Ezekiel Ansah, and Dallas Cowboys edge rusher Demarcus Lawrence. Bell will receive $14.5 million playing the season on his second franchise tag, while Ansah and Lawrence will each earn $17,143,000 playing on their first runs through the franchise tag.

Bell has hinted at sitting out a sizable chunk of the season. Adam Schefter reported Bell was considering sitting until the final six weeks, which would allow him to accrue a season toward free agency and avoid extra wear and tear on his body. Bell tweeted about putting up a record season, so it’s possible he could decide to play the whole year and take out a sizable insurance policy. The Steelers could conceivably tag him a third time next year, but they would have to give him a 44 percent raise from his 2018 salary, which would be $20.88 million.

I saw at least one analyst tweet that he would expect the the San Francisco 49ers and Houston to be connected to Bell next year. The 49ers signed Jerick McKinnon to a deal this offseason with sizable first year money, but it is effectively a year-to-year deal. Expectations are high for McKinnon, and if he can come close to meeting them, there’s no chance the 49ers would try and break the bank for Bell. It is also worth noting that if McKinnon has a strong 2018 season, that could hurt Bell’s chances at a particularly big contract. Bell is superior to McKinnon, but if a coach can get a big year out of a running back who had previously struggled to earn a starting role, teams might be even more hesitant to break the bank for a running back.

The two pass rushers are a little more interesting. Both are under their first franchise tag, so the Lions and Cowboys could choose to tag them again. A second year on the tag would cost $20.5 million for each of them. If they have a huge year, maybe it happens, but that’s a lot of guaranteed money.

Chris Biderman put together some thoughts on the two pass rushers, hitting on the pertinent points. The 49ers did not invest heavily in the position, extending Cassius Marsh and signing Jeremiah Attaochu. Marsh had a solid close to the season after the 49ers claimed him off waivers, and Attaochu is talented but was not going to climb past Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.

If Lawrence and/or Ansah hit the open market next year, would you see the 49ers making a serious push? It depends on how the pass rush performs this year, but with what I think are relatively low expectations, it would not be surprising to see a big push next year.