Tag! You’re It: Understanding the Franchise Tag

Could Nick Foles be hit with the Franchise Tag for the Eagles? Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The National Football League still recognizes this time period as part of the 2018 league year. However, today marks a change in focus towards the 2019 league year with the start of the franchise tag period. From today through March 5th at 4:00 PM EST, Teams have to decide which player they would like to stick with a franchise tag, and which version they will use. Rather than sitting and watching how things unfold, today we take a look at the three types of franchise tags available to NFL teams and what they mean.

Transition Tag

Of the three tags, this one is perhaps the weakest. The Transition Tag is the average of the top 10 salaries for that position. A players who receives the Transition Tag is eligible to negotiate with other teams. However, the team placing the tag have the right to match. If the team chooses not to match, they lose the player without compensation. This is typically used on players which are valuable to the team, but the organization is not quite sold on keeping long term.

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Former offensive lineman Steve Hutchinson is one of the most notable players who received the Transition Tag. As a pending free agent, Seattle placed the Transition Tag on Hutchinson. However, the Minnesota Vikings stepped in and offered Hutchinson a seven-year contract, worth $49 million. In 2006, this was believed to be the richest contract for an offensive guard. The Vikings included a stipulation to their offer which made the entire contract guaranteed if he was not the highest paid offensive lineman on the roster. The clause left the Seahawks with no chance to bring back Hutchinson. Salary cap woes prevented Seattle from making the monetary commitment. The 2011 collective bargaining agreement removed what many had called the “poison pill” loophole clause.

Exclusive Franchise Tag

Slightly more common than the Transition, the Exclusive Tag is typically saved for elite tier players. Of the three types, the Exclusive Tag has the better potential to be the most lucrative deal. Players receiving the Exclusive Tag may earn the average of the top five salaries  at their position for the current year, or 120 percent of the player’s previous salary. The higher of the two is what the player will earn. As the name suggests, all negotiation rights fall on the player’s current team.

Typically this tag is applied only to elite talent. The major bump in pay is the biggest contributing factor. As a result, it is the least used of the three tags, accounting for just thrice over the last four seasons. Von Miller received the Exclusive Tag after the 2016 season before signing a six-year contract worth $114.5 million. Most recently, quarterback Kirk Cousins and running back Le’Veon Bell received the tag after the 2017 season from Washington and Pittsburgh respectively.

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Non-Exclusive Franchise Tag

By far, the most popular option is the Non-Exclusive Franchise Tag. The Non-Exclusive Tag is what most refer to as the “franchise tag”. This is a one-year tendered offer, for the greater of either the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position over the last five years, or 120 percent of the player’s previous salary. The five-year period used to find the potential value differs from the one-year period used for the Exclusive Tag. Player’s who receive and sign the Non-Exclusive Tag are allowed to negotiate with other teams. As is the case for Transition Tag players, the current team has the right to match any offer. However, if the current team chooses to decline to match, they will receive two first-round picks as compensation.

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The hefty price associated with signing a player tagged by another team is what typically tempers excitement. Teams are wise to take advantage of the steep cost by placing the Non-Exclusive Tag on mid-tier players whom they would love to keep but be more than willing to lose for a pair of first-round picks. The last two players who received the Non-Exclusive Tag later signed multi-year extensions.

The Finer Points

There are some pieces of information which needs to be spotlighted regarding franchise tags. A team may rescind the tag placed on a player at any time prior to the player signing the tender. The Panthers did this to cornerback Josh Norman in 2016. If a player chooses to sign the tag, he and the team are allowed to work out a new contract or trade. However, players have until July 15th to sign an extension or multiyear contract. If no deal is made, the player could sign only a one-year deal until the end of his team’s last regular season game.

Each year brings a single allotment for a franchise tag. A team can use just one tag a year, regardless of which one they choose. Furthermore, a player can be tagged up to three times by their team but would require an increase in pay each time. This was on display with Cousins and Washington. Cousins received the Non-Exclusive then the Exclusive Tags in consecutive years. Last offseason brought the possibility of another sharp increase in salary. As everyone would learn, the Vikings came in and threw heaps of money at Cousins and signed the quarterback in free agency. Would the Vikings have moved to sign Cousins if Washington had decided to use their tag once more? It is a an interesting question to ask in hindsight. The offseason is sure to hold a few surprises, it’s time to sit back and enjoy the show.

– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Cardinals. Like and follow on and Facebook.


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