It's NFL franchise tag deadline day. What does it mean, top candidates and more

Free agency is just around the corner for many NFL players who don't have a contract for the 2024 season. Although there have been a few last-minute signings, those available players are preparing to test their worth on the open market.

But there's one more hurdle to clear before front-office execs can start making offers and signing new players. March 5 is the deadline for NFL teams to place what's called a franchise tag on one of their impending free agents.

What exactly does that mean? Who it can be used on? And who's likely to be tagged by this afternoon's deadline? Here's a quick breakdown.

PLAYING TAG: What is each NFL team's best franchise tag option in 2024?

After negotiations on a long-term contract with the New York Giants reached a standstill last offseason, running back Saquon Barkley played under the franchise tag in 2023 and led the team with 962 rushing yards.
After negotiations on a long-term contract with the New York Giants reached a standstill last offseason, running back Saquon Barkley played under the franchise tag in 2023 and led the team with 962 rushing yards.

What is a franchise tag?

Created in 1993, a franchise tag is a tool that NFL teams can use on one of their impending free agents every year. Any player who signs a franchise tag agreement receives a one-year contract at a set rate for the next season.

The current NFL CBA only allows a player to be franchise tagged three times. Also, each subsequent time a player is franchise-tagged, he becomes more expensive. Oftentimes, an extension is better for the team money-wise.

Different types of franchise tags

  • Exclusive franchise tag: These are more expensive, but they prevent players from negotiating for better offers with other teams. On rare occasions when this tag is used, it's usually placed on a quarterback. The last time a non-quarterback received this type of franchise tag was 2017 with then-Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell.

  • Non-exclusive franchise tag: Much more common, these types of franchise tags allow the player in question to negotiate with other teams. If a team comes to the player with an offer, the original team has the opportunity to match that deal. If the original team declines, it will receive two first-round picks from the new team. The salary attached to an exclusive franchise tag is determined by either the average of the top five salaries at the player's position during the current year or 120% of that player's previous salary, whichever is higher.

  • Transition tag: Another uncommon tag, the transition tag works similarly to the non-exclusive tag with a few changes. The salary is once again indexed to the higher figure between the cap percentage average of the ten largest salaries at that player's position the previous season, or 120% of their salary from a year ago. Just like non-exclusive players, any player on the transition tag can negotiate with other teams. However, if the player's current team doesn't match the competing offer, the new team would not have to provide any form of compensation. Essentially, a transition tag is just a non-exclusive tag that does not involve two first-round draft picks going to the player's original team.

When is the franchise tag deadline?

The window for teams to use the franchise tag is March 5 at 4 p.m. ET.

Which players are eligible for the franchise tag?

Any impending unrestricted free agent is eligible to receive a team's franchise tag. However, only high-end players ever really get this option.

Players become unrestricted free agents on March 13, the beginning of the league's new year.

Notable players who will likely be franchise tagged

  • Colts WR Michael Pittman Jr.

  • Jaguars OLB Josh Allen

  • Chiefs CB L'Jarius Sneed

  • Raiders RB Josh Jacobs (franchise tagged last year)

  • Giants RB Saquon Barkley (franchise tagged last year)

  • Bears CB Jaylon Johnson

  • Panthers OLB Brian Burns

Of course, there are other players who could be tagged as well such as New England's linebacker Kyle Dugger and offensive lineman Mike Onwenu, New York Jets' pass rusher Bryce Huff, and San Francisco's pass rusher Chase Young. However, for reasons such as money or the fact that said player did not experience the breakout the team was hoping for, these players are less likely to get tagged.

Contributing: Jon Hoefling

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is the franchise tag? Exclusive vs. non-exclusive, more to know