Beginning Feb. 27 and ending March 16 is a period in which NFL teams can place franchise or transition tags on players who are set to become free agents in 2020. The meaning of the franchise tag (and the transition tag) is just that: It's a mechanism teams are allowed to use to keep "franchise" designated players off the unrestricted or restricted free-agency markets.
Because the franchise tag is a tool used by teams to lock players into one-year deals, players generally don't like being tagged. The positive for the players who are tagged is that the one-year deals are guaranteed, and the salaries represent the average of the top five highest-paid players at their positions (if not more). The player's guaranteed salary for that one season is attractive, but such a tag provides the player no long-term security.
NFL FREE AGENT RANKINGS:
Here are the top 50 players available in 2020, by position
A franchise tag, of course, still leaves room for negotiation on a long-term contract. The NFL's deadline in 2020 for teams and tagged players to agree upon and sign a multi-year extension is July 15. Yet over the last five years, roughly half of the franchise tagged players have received such deals.
The trend for NFL teams over the last few years has been to hold off on the use of tags. But there are a handful of players in 2020 who are interesting tag candidates. Plus, the question mark that is the ongoing CBA negation will impact teams' decisions on long-term contracts and their use of tags.
There are three types of tags teams can use between Feb. 27 and March 16 — non-exclusive franchise tags, exclusive franchise tags and transition tags. Below are the definitions and rules for all three. (All definitions and rules are from Article 10 of the current NFL/NFLPA collective bargaining agreement.)
What is a franchise tag in the NFL?
Non-exclusive franchise tag
Definition and rules: The non-exclusive franchise tender shall be a one-year NFL player contract for ...
— (A), The average of the five largest prior year salaries for players at the position at which the franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior league year, which average shall be calculated by:
Summing the amounts of the franchise tags for players at that position for the five preceding league years
Dividing the resulting amount by the sum of the salary caps for the five preceding league years
Multiplying the resulting percentage by the salary cap for the upcoming league year
— or (B), 120 percent of his prior year salary, whichever is greater.
If the team extends the tender pursuant to this subsection, the player shall be permitted to negotiate a player contract with any club, except that draft choice compensation of two first round draft selections shall be made with respect to such player in the event he signs with the new club.
Meaning: Non-exclusive tags are most commonly used. It means a team will pay the tagged player no less than the average of the five highest salaries at the player’s position over the last five years, or 120 percent of the player’s cap number from the previous season, whichever is greater. The player is allowed to negotiate with other teams, but his current team can match any offer sheet. If a player's current team declines to match another team's offer, it will be awarded two first-round draft picks as compensation.
Exclusive franchise tag
Definition and rules: The exclusive franchise tender shall be a one-year NFL player contract for ...
— (A) the average of the five largest salaries in player contracts for that league year as of the end of the restricted free-agent signing period that league year
— or (B) the amount of the required tender under the subsection above, whichever is greater.
Meaning: Exclusive tags are more rare. Only Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (2017), Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (2017), Broncos linebacker Von Miller (2016) and Saints quarterback Drew Brees (2012) have received the exclusive tag since 2012. The salary is calculated in a way similar to the formula for players issued non-exclusive tags, but rather than an average of the top five salaries at the player's position over the last five years, the exclusive tag is worth the average of the top five salaries at his position in the current year. Unlike those who get the non-exclusive tag, an exclusive tagged player can't negotiate with other teams.
Definition and rules: Each club shall be permitted to designate one player who would otherwise be an unrestricted free agent as a transition player in (2020) ... during the same designation period as the franchise
player designation period.
Any club that designates a transition player shall receive the rights of first refusal specified in this article notwithstanding the number of his accrued seasons. Any transition player shall be completely free to negotiate and sign a player contract with any club during the period from the first day of the league year following the expiration of his last player contract to July 22, and any club shall be completely free to negotiate and sign a player contract with such player, without penalty or restriction, including, but not limited to, draft choice compensation between clubs of any kind, subject only to the prior club’s right of first refusal.
Any club that designates a transition player shall be deemed on the first day of the league year following the expiration of the player’s last contract to have automatically tendered the player a one-year NFL player contract for ...
— (A) the cap percentage average of the ten largest prior year salaries for players at the position
— or (B) 120 percent of his prior year salary, whichever is greater.
The tender may be withdrawn at any time, but if such tender is withdrawn, the player immediately becomes an unrestricted free agent. For purposes of this subsection, the "transition tag" for any league year is the average of the ten largest prior year salaries for players at that position.
Meaning: Transition tags pay a player the average of the 10 highest-paid players at his position. A tagged player is allowed to negotiate with other teams. The player’s current team can match any offer given to a transition-tagged player, but the team will not be given compensation if it decides not to match.
(NOTE: ESPN reported there were "multiple NFL teams waiting to make roster moves based on the potential of a new CBA," which has not yet been ratified. If the NFL's CBA proposal is accepted by the NFLPA, its terms could go into effect in time for the new league year on March 18. Is not, the 2020 offseason will play out as what's considered a "final league year," which based on the current CBA comes with different set of rules for team management; in the "final league year," teams are allowed to use both a franchise tag and a transition tag. The implementation of a new CBA this year would limit teams to just one tag.)
NFL franchise tag deadline 2020
Date: March 16
The original deadline for teams to place tags on players was March 10 (and then March 12) at 4 p.m. ET. Due to ongoing CBA negotiations, the NFL and the NFLPA agreed to move back this year's tag deadline since the status of the CBA impacts how teams use their tags.
For the teams that tag players, the deadline for those clubs to sign those players to long-term contract extensions is July 15 at 4 p.m. ET. If a tagged player does not have an extension in place by that deadline, he will play out the season on the tag.
How many times can a team franchise tag a player in the NFL?
Players can be tagged in consecutive years, but the team must pay the player more each year he is tagged. (Kirk Cousins can tell you all about it.) For a player to be franchise tagged two straight years, the team must pay 120 percent of the player's previous salary. If it's three straight years, the team must pay the player 144 percent of his previous salary.
From the CBA: Any club that designates a player as a franchise player for the third time shall, on the date the third such designation is made, be deemed to have tendered the player a one-year NFL player contract for the greater of ...
— (A) the average of the five largest prior year salaries for players at the position with the highest such average
— (B) 120 percent of the average of the five largest prior year salaries for players at the position at which the player participated in the most plays during the prior league year
— or (C) 144 percent of his prior year salary.
If the club designates the player as a franchise player for the third time, the designating club shall be the only club with which the player may negotiate or sign a player contract.
NFL franchise tag values for 2020
The following franchise and transition tag values are projections by OverTheCap.com based on a $200 million salary cap.
Per OTC, "franchise and transition tenders are calculated by adding the respective tag numbers, divided by the sum of the salary caps, from the previous five seasons, and finally multiplied by the current season's salary cap."
NFL franchise tagged players
Below are the NFL players who have received franchise and transition tags over the last five years.
* - transition tag
** - exclusive franchise tag
*** - tag rescinded
NFL franchise tag candidates for 2020
Based on their status and the salary cap situations of their teams, the following are the NFL players who are most likely to be hit with a franchise or transition tag in 2020.
Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys
Amari Cooper, WR, Cowboys
Chris Jones, DT, Chiefs
A.J. Green, WR, Bengals
Matthew Judon, OLB, Ravens
Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jaguars
Bud Dupree, OLB, Steelers
Hunter Henry, TE, Chargers
Justin Simmons, S, Broncos
Dante Fowler, OLB, Rams