What’s Next for the Franchise Players

The franchise tag deadline has come and gone and for the three tagged running backs- Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Tony Pollard- and I had a few questions in the inbox about what are the rules now for each of the players and what are the options the teams have. So hopefully this post can shed some light on what can and can not happen next.

The main thing that applies to the three players is that they are now prevented from signing a long term contract with a team. The CBA contains an obscure rule that prevents franchise players from receiving long term deals if they do not sign by the July deadline. This rule was essentially put in place to avoid any meaningful holdouts from players who were tagged that would drag into training camp and/or the regular season. So even though Barkley and Jacobs are clearly upset that the teams did not put their best foot forward there is limited long term options that exist for the players in 2023, though there are potential short term ones.

While the CBA limits the ability to extend the players beyond 2023 it does not prevent the teams and players from agreeing to a different valued one year contract. It could be a raise over the franchise tag. It could be the inclusion of a no tag provision for 2024. It could be a willingness to pay almost all of the contract up front in the form of a signing bonus. So if Jacobs and Barkley do not report to camp they could have some minor leverage to do a contract modification from the existing franchise tender amount. Teams could not use void years, however, to delay any of the charges.

So what are the next steps for the players? Pollard is in a different situation than Barkley and Jacobs so Ill discuss him first. Pollard wisely signed his tender back in March to lock in his $10.091 million salary for the year. That means Pollard is under contract for the year and has to report to training camp at the same time as the rest of the Dallas Cowboys. For the most part once he signed that tender it was going to be a longshot that Dallas would actually negotiate for a longer term contract.

Neither Jacobs nor Barkley signed their tender. They are under no obligation to report to training camp. They can not be fined the way Pollard would be and can hold out pretty much until the regular season without financial penalty. Once the regular season hits the players will need to make a decision. They can report to the team at that time, guarantee their $10.091 million salaries (or whatever salaries they can get the team to agree to), and play the season as normal or they can continue to hold out. They can not be traded unless they sign the tender.

This hold out though does carry financial ramifications. The player would be forfeiting his weekly salary for each game he misses- $560,611 per week. That is not money the player is likely to make up ever. While it is possible that the teams could up the contract to cover games missed there are really only a very narrow set of circumstances where that would make sense for the team. Basically there is no way the team would consider such a raise under two extremes- the teams starts off very good (they dont need the player to be better) or really bad (what difference will it really make at that point. Even if the team is average it would depend on how the team looks. Really the only situation where a forced raise would happen in season would be if the team was slightly below average and the offense had a number of question marks. Maybe the team could be convinced that they need the RB to stabilize the offense and salvage a possible playoff spot.

The players can continue to hold out with the opportunity to report through the 10th week of the season. On the Tuesday following the 10th week the player is no longer allowed to play in the NFL this season. The teams would still hold the rights to the players and would then have to decide if they wanted to tag them again as the tag does not automatically toll. If the team designates them a franchise player in 2024 the compensation drops from two first rounders to a first round and a third round pick. If they are not tagged they become a free agent.

From a salary cap standpoint the teams will hold the full $10.091 million salary cap charge even if the player does not report to the team. For each game he misses the cap charge will be reduced in season by $560,611 until it zeroes out once the season is over.

In both cases the team can withdraw the tender at any point. That would immediately free up $10.091 million on the cap since the salary is not guaranteed until the tender is accepted by the player. If that happened Barkley and Jacobs would become free agents. The players would be free and clear to negotiate with anyone on any type of deal. The teams would not receive any compensatory draft consideration if they did that. I would imagine that is a long shot though it is a threat a team could make to the players since there is no guarantee either would make that kind of salary as a free agent this year.

If the players do choose to accept the tender as Pollard did and they do not receive a no tag provision they can be tagged again next year and will face the same situation about a long term deal. The minimum salary they would earn on a 2nd tag if they accepted the 2023 tender before the start of the regular season would be $12.109 million in 2024. The $22.2M salary over two years would be well under the going rate for running backs who signed extensions at $10+M a year over the last few years.