NFL Free Agency

NFL Franchise Tag: Everything You Need to Know

The Buffalo Bills used the non-exclusive tag on safety Jairus Byrd this year.
The Buffalo Bills used the non-exclusive tag on safety Jairus Byrd this year.Norm Hall/Getty Images
Jesse ReedCorrespondent IMarch 4, 2013

Monday, March 4 is the final day that NFL teams can use the franchise designation on a player, and if you have ever had any questions about this process, we have the answers you seek. 

The franchise tag is a tool teams have to help manage the salary cap, but it's one players and agents abhor. Nothing says "security" like a one-year deal, right?

Here are the basic facts surrounding this tool.

 

Three Versions

There are three different categories teams have to choose from when using the franchise tag.

  • Non-Exclusive Tag
  • Exclusive Tag
  • Transition Tag

Each designation carries with it different implications. 

 

Non-Exclusive Tag

The most common usage of the franchise tag is the non-exclusive variety.

This designation is cheaper than the exclusive tag, but it comes with a slight risk.

Teams can offer non-exclusive tagged players a long-term contract, and the team using the tag then has the opportunity to either match that offer or receive two first-round draft picks in compensation.

The amount of money tagged players receive has changed since the NFL and NFLPA signed the new CBA. According to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, "Under Article 10, Section 2 of the CBA, the number is based on the five-year average cap percentage for the tag at each position."

 

Exclusive Tag

The most expensive version of the franchise tag is rarely used. 

According to Spotrac.com, the definition of the exclusive tag is as follows:

An "exclusive" franchise player—not free to sign with another club—is offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player's position as of April 16, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, whichever is greater. 

 

Teams using this designation effectively secure the player tagged, though at an exorbitant cost.

 

Transition Tag

The transition tag is the cheapest of the three, though it carries with it the least amount of security for the team. 

Using this designation allows a team to match any offer a player might receive, but there is absolutely no compensation in return, should the team refuse to match the offer. 

Thus, this designation isn't one teams are keen on using.

 

Non-Exclusive Franchise and Transition Tag Numbers By Position

NFL Network's Albert Breer obtained a league memo that detailed the exact amounts for these two designations, via Marc Sessler:

Position Non-Exclusive Transition
Quarterbacks $14,896,000 $13,068,000
Running Backs $8,219,000 $6,970,000
Wide Receivers $10,537,000 $8,867,000
Tight Ends $6,066,000 $5,194,000
Offensive Linemen $9,828,000 $8,709,000
Defensive Tackles $8,450,000 $7,039,000
Defensive Ends $11,175,000 $9,151,000
Linebackers $9,619,000 $8,358,000
Cornerbacks $10,854,000 $9,095,000
Safeties $6,916,000 $6,002,000
Punters/Kickers $2,977,000 $2,700,000

 

Finer Points

Getting franchised doesn't automatically close the books on a long-term deal. In fact, many teams will continue working on a long-term contract after securing their "franchise" player with this tag.

Teams and players have until July 15 to come to a long-term agreement. If a deal isn't made by that time, the one-year contract is secured.

Almost all the time...

Getting franchised isn't a guarantee that a player will be with the team that tags him.

Teams can withdraw their offer at any time before a player signs a contract. Furthermore, according to Florio's report, the contract can be withdrawn if a player fails “to establish or maintain his excellent physical condition.”

If a team and player come to an agreement on a one-year franchise tender, the money is then fully guaranteed.

Teams can tag a player multiple years in a row, but doing so becomes expensive. Per Breer:

Teams can continuously franchise players, but it'll cost them to do that. As had been the case previously, a player tagged a second straight year would have his number set at 120 percent of the previous figure. A third straight year? That's where things change, and the percentage goes up to 144.

It's clear that signing a player to a long-term deal is mutually beneficial for teams and player after the first year, if the team still views the player as one worth a long-term deal.

Teams are only allowed to name one franchise player per year, so it's imperative that any team using this tool does so with great care.

The franchise tag is an interesting and contentious part of the process between players and their agents and the teams involved.

Stocking a team with talented players while staying under the cap each and every year is a difficult challenge, and this is just one of the tools general managers have at their disposal to make it work.

 

Players Who Have Been Tagged

To this point, five teams have used the non-exclusive tag to secure players:

  • Buffalo Bills: Safety Jairus Byrd (h/t ESPN News Services)
  • Chicago Bears: Defensive tackle Henry Melton
  • Cincinnati Bengals: Defensive end Michael Johnson
  • Denver Broncos: Offensive tackle Ryan Clady (h/t AP)
  • Indianapolis Colts: Punter Pat McAfee
  • Miami Dolphins: Defensive tackle Randy Starks (h/t NFL Network's Ian Rapoport)

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

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