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NFL - US Sports: What next for franchise stars?

As the NFL's deadline to sign franchise-tagged players draws nearer, four stars are facing some big career decisions over the next few days.

The Kansas City Chiefs' Orlando Brown, Cincinnati Bengals' Jessie Bates, Dallas Cowboys' Dalton Shultz and Miami Dolphins' Mike Gesicki are all yet to sign long-term deals.

A number of options remain open to them, ranging from playing under the tag to holding out for a full season, so which way will each one lean?

Orlando Brown

There's more optimism over the two sides reaching an agreement in Brown's case than the others at the moment, although talks will need to heat up quickly in order to get a long-term deal done.

The Kansas City Chiefs acquired Brown, who has yet to sign his franchise tag, via a trade with the Baltimore Ravens shortly before the 2021 draft.

The Ravens received a 2021 first-round pick (31st overall), a 2021 third-round pick, a 2022 fourth pick and a 2022 fifth-round while the Chiefs got Brown, a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 sixth-round pick in return.

Given the draft capital they used up to obtain the left tackle, Kansas City couldn't risk him hitting free agency and potentially becoming an expensive one-year rental - so it was a no-brainer to apply the tag.

Brown would be due $16.6million in 2022, but he wants to be paid at a level commensurate with his standing as one of the NFL's best left tackles, which is around $6m more per season.

Jessie Bates

Only two franchise-tagged players have sat out a full NFL season in the past 24 years, but things are heading in that direction for Bates and the Cincinnati Bengals.

For the free safety, who reportedly has no intention of playing under his $12.911million franchise tag, time is definitely running out.

Bates posted career-lows in multiple categories last season, finishing with 88 tackles, four pass breakups and just one interception.

But the 25-year-old caught fire in the postseason, making 20 tackles, six pass breakups and two interceptions as the Bengals won three playoffs games to reach Super Bowl LVI.

It must be surprising to Cincinnati executives that a player with around $6m of career earnings to date is refusing to sign the franchise deal that would net him $12.9m in just one year, but Bates is probably looking at the big picture.

Fellow safety Minkah Fitzpatrick recently signed a four-year, $73.6 million contract extension with the Pittsburgh Steelers with $36m guaranteed, but the Bengals are highly unlikely to go as high as committing over $18m a season to their star.

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Dalton Schultz

Although unhappy that he wasn't given the chance to test the temperature of free agency this year, the Dallas Cowboys' tight end quickly signed his $10.931million tender.

His frustration grew over the slow pace of negotiations for a new contract, so Schultz skipped the final part of Dallas' organized team activities but avoided any significant fine by showing up for the mandatory June minicamp.

A spanner was thrown in the works of any prospective agreement when the Cleveland Browns inked a long-term deal with their franchise-tagged tight end David Njoku that gave him an average annual salary of $13,687,500.

Statistically, Njoku doesn't measure up to Schultz, who had a career year in 2021 with 78 catches, 808 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

The Cowboys haven't proven to be great at playing the franchise tag game in the past as the last two times Dallas had someone play a season under a franchise tag, it eventually cost them more to keep them on longer deals and the same scenario could play out for Schultz.

Mike Gesicki

An almost unique situation has been brewing in Miami over Mike Gesicki, who has signed his franchise tag but has a good argument that it should be worth more.

The Dolphins have reportedly been reluctant to engage in long-term contract negotiations with the versatile tight end, who lined up as a wide receiver eight times more than he did at the end of the offensive line in 2021.

Hence, Gesicki could file a grievance to be classified as wide receiver instead of a tight end - the difference in the two tags being worth $7.488million as the 2022 wide receiver number is $18.419m.

Again, a major sticking point in long-term discussions here appears to be Njoku's deal from the Browns with Gesicki's numbers far superior - he too is coming off the best season of his career after catching 73 passes for 780 yards and two touchdowns in 2021.

New Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel's offense relies more on blocking tight ends than receiving tight ends like Gesicki so this could well be his final season in Miami on whichever tag ultimately gets applied.

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