February 17 marks the first day that teams can apply either the Franchise and Transition tag to one of their pending free agents. The Franchise tag is essentially a mechanism that is designed to block a player from entering free agency and maintain exclusive negotiating rights with the player, by extending a one year tender offer to the player.
There are three types of tags that can be applied to the player between February 17 and March 3:
Exclusive Franchise Tag– This tag completely blocks a player from signing with another NFL team. It will be equal to the average of the top 5 salaries at the players position for the year or 120% of the players’ prior year salary. This number will be calculated at the end of the Restricted Free Agency period.
Non-Exclusive Franchise Tag– This is the most common tag that is applied in the NFL. The value is determined using five prior years of data to determine the percentage of the salary cap that a top 5 player at the position should occupy. This player can still negotiate with other teams but if they sign with another team the team that applied the tag has the option to match the contract or accept two first round draft picks as compensation.
Transition Tag– The Transition tag is calculated by using the top 10 salaries rather than top 5 salaries, which leads to a slightly lower cost than the Franchise tag. The player is again free to negotiate with other teams but his original team holds the right of first refusal on a contract. Because the difference in cost is minimal between this tag and the franchise tag this tag is rarely used.
A team may only use one tag in a given year, meaning they can not designate both a Franchise and Transition player. In each case the salary is fully guaranteed once the player opts to sign the contract. Player’s dislike the franchise tag because it makes free agency much more difficult. Even if a team is hot for the player the draft price is so steep that team’s often stay away. In addition the ROFR associated with the tag means that a contract signed will remain on the books for up to 5 days while the team decides whether or not to match the offer. That can not only occupy valuable cap room but it can make a team miss out on the second and third options who may choose to sign with another team in the 5 day waiting period the original team has.
The Estimated Costs
It is important to note that as soon as a player is designated a Franchise or Transition player the cost immediately is included in a team’s Top 51 salary cap calculation and it is not dependent on a player actually signing the contract. So teams that use the tag must have enough space when the new League Year begins on March 11 to carry the full Franchise salary.
Per Albert Breer the NFL is running with the early estimates on the franchise tag as follows:
These are some of the players that I think teams could consider for a Franchise tag. I would not expect teams to use the tag two times in a row on high priced players which eliminates players like Michael Johnson and Brandon Albert.
I would also find it unlikely that any team immediately applies a tag in the next few days. Both sides benefit, especially those with two possible candidates, by waiting until the last possible second to use the tag. Last year this decision allowed the Chiefs to come to a long term agreement on WR Dwayne Bowe and then save the tag for Albert.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Saints
Dennis Pitta, TE, Ravens
Eric Decker, WR, Broncos
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
Alex Mack, C, Browns
Eugene Monroe, LT, Ravens
Anthony Collins, LT, Bengals
Jared Veldheer, LT, Raiders
Greg Hardy, DE, Panthers
Jason Hatcher, DT, Cowboys
Linval Joseph, DT, Giants
Brian Orakpo, OLB, Redskins
Jason Worilds, OLB, Steelers
Brent Grimes, CB, Dolphins
Aqib Talib, CB, Patriots
Vontae Davis, CB, Colts
Alterraun Verner, CB, Titans
Jairus Byrd, S, Bills
Donte Whitner, S, 49ers
TJ Ward, S, Browns
Pat McAfee, P, Colts
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.