Due to the contract negotiations, the NFL offseason becomes a chess match between a team, a player, and the player’s agent every season. A team wants to retain players at the best value against their salary cap, while the player and agent want to make the most money with how they perform on the field. Sometimes, when both sides run out of time to make a deal, a team will franchise tag a player.
So what does a franchise tag mean in football? What are the rules for franchise tagging a player, how many players can you tag, and more? Find out these answers and more in this blog post!
What is a Franchise Tag in the NFL?
A franchise tag occurs when an NFL team stops a free agent from going into the open market during the offseason with a guaranteed contract for one year. Each team can only use one franchise or transition tag each season. A franchise tag becomes a bit complicated because a team can retain an NFL player in three ways.
A team can use three types of franchise tags: exclusive, non-exclusive, and transition tag to retain a player for one season. Each of these tags has its pros and cons for teams and players. Below is the breakdown between each of these tags with an explanation as to how they are different.
Exclusive Franchise Tag, Non-Exclusive Franchise, and Transition Tag Explanation
An exclusive franchise tag means that a player can only negotiate with their original team for a contract. A non-exclusive tag allows the player to talk with other teams, but the original team can also match another team’s offer during the offseason. If the player chooses another team’s contract offer, the initial squad receives two first-round picks from the new team that the player is going to.
Another difference between an exclusive franchise tag vs. a non-exclusive franchise tag comes down to the money. You take the average five salaries by a position during an exclusive franchise tag and give that to the player. For example, you would look at the average wage of all Quarterbacks in the league, which will be that player’s salary if they were a QB.
For the non-exclusive franchise tag, there is more math that is involved. First, you sum up the franchise tag of the previous five years by position. Next, you sum up the salary cap of the last five years and divide that number into the sum of position number. After that, you then multiply that number against the current salary cap.
Finally, a transition tag takes the average of the top 10 salaries at any given position for a one-year contract for a player. Unlike the non-exclusive franchise tag, a transition tag does not receive any picks if another team signs that player. Typically speaking, this type of offer is rarely used compared to the other two options.
How Long Can the Team and Player Negotiate a Franchise Deal?
Early in spring, a team can franchise tag one player to start the negotiation process with their agent. From the spring to the summer, the two sides can try and work out a long-term deal. If one deal can’t occur between the two sides, the franchise player can accept the one-year-tender franchise contract, a guaranteed contract.
It’s important to note that once a player accepts the franchise tag, they can’t negotiate with another team during that year. The franchise tag is a guaranteed contract, so they stay with their current squad once a player takes that contract for one more year.
Does the Franchise Tag Benefit the Team or Player More?
The franchise tag can benefit both sides or neither at the same time. Here are a few examples of how a team and a player can benefit from the deal to explain this further.
A team knows their player wants to test free agency to make a lot of money since they will become a free agent, so the team will work with the player’s agent to close a deal with a contract extension. If both sides cannot agree on the money and years, a team can choose to franchise the player, which means they retain them for one more year. This tag helps teams who can’t commit to a long-term contract or extension on a player for salary cap reasons that season.
A franchise tag is a guaranteed contract for a player, which is not always the case for Football Players. For example, sometimes players get cut from teams, which means they lose out on a portion of their contract salary. One player that took three consecutive franchise tags was Kirk Cousins, who then signed a massive deal with the Minnesota Vikings after his time with the Washington Football team.
Can a Player Refuse the Franchise Tag?
Yes, a player can refuse the franchise tag, which took place in 2018 with Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers offered Bell a guaranteed franchise contract of $14.5 million for one more season, but Belle declined it and sat out the season, which meant not making $14.5 million. Then Belle signed a contract with the Jets for $52.5 million in the following season, but only $33 million was guaranteed.
A year and a half after Belle signed with the New York Jets, they released him from the team. That meant that Belle did not receive his entire $52.5 million, but also the NY Jets vastly overpaid for a player with little production for over a year. He was ineffective the next season with the Jets because he lost a year of real-time play action by sitting out on the previous year.
One thing to note is that Bell is the exception to players refusing a franchise tag. Almost every player accepts the label with guaranteed money, which is not the case in most NFL via traditional contracts. Not only did Belle lose $14.5 by sitting out a year, but then he also lost out on a majority of his contract with the New York Jets because that was not a guaranteed contract.
How Many Times Can a Tagged Player be Franchised?
A player in the NFL can be franchised up to three consecutive times by a team. However, each time you franchise a player, their salary goes up each time to retain them. For example, if you franchise your wide receiver three times in a row, you can expect to pay them more for that third year compared to that first year in a franchise tag.
The standard logic is that in year one, that player receives 100% of the guaranteed money for their average position salary for the top 5 players in their position. In year two, the team must pay 120% of the previous year’s salary or the position’s average of the top 5 salaries. By year three, the team needs to pay 144% of the last year’s wage or pay the average of the top 5 salaries by position.
Conclusion – What is a Franchise Tag in Football?
In summary, a franchise tag in the NFL is a delicate dance between a team, their player, and the player’s agent to work out a contract deal. Sometimes a franchise tag can benefit both a team and a player since they get something from the agreement. Mainly because a franchise tag can guarantee money to a player, you will often see a player take that offer.
Also, most franchise deals are non-exclusive, which means a team can receive the first-round draft picks from another group that picks up that player in a contract during the offseason. Going with the non-exclusive agreement allows the player to shop around to find a better deal, which can help both sides get what they want if they sign somewhere else.