Tag, You're It: Your Guide to the 2019 NFL Franchise Tag
by Rick Bouch Scores & Statson
On Tuesday, Feb. 19, NFL teams can begin using the franchise and transition tags on pending free agents. Continuing through March 5, teams may use either tag on one free agent. The use of either tag is an expensive decision for a franchise though it does protect a quality player from going elsewhere. As teams begin thinking about using the tags, let’s review how it all works.
What is the franchise tag? In the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), teams may use the franchise tag, a labor designation, to restrict a player’s potential move to another team in exchange for a high one-year salary. Once a player signs his franchise offer sheet, the one-year salary is guaranteed.
There are two types of franchise tags – the exclusive rights tag and the non-exclusive rights tag. Any player given the exclusive rights tag is bound to his team for the upcoming season. The player and his agent may not seek offers from other teams. A player designated the non-exclusive tag may seek offers from other teams. His current team may match any offer he receives and if the team does not, it will receive two first-round draft picks from the new team as compensation.
What about the transition tag? The transition tag is another labor designation that NFL franchises may use on a player. It is a less expensive model than the franchise tag (more on that later), but teams do not use it much. A player under this designation can seek offers from other teams, but if the current team doesn’t match an offer it does not receive any compensation. The only advantage of using the transition tag is that teams do get the opportunity to match any offer.
Salaries and Tags When a player is given the exclusive rights franchise tag, he is eligible for a one-year salary that is calculated as follows. The average of the top five players’ cap percentage at the franchised player’s position for the current season is used or 120 percent of his previous year’s salary, whichever is greater.
Players given the non-exclusive rights tag are paid according to the average cap percentage at a position for the previous five years or 120 percent of the player’s salary the prior year, whichever is greater. The transition tag, the least expensive option for teams, is calculated by taking the average salary of the top 10 players at a position over the previous five seasons.
How many players will be tagged in 2019? It’s hard to say as every team’s situation is different. Over the past six seasons, there has been an average of just over six players per season that have been given some sort of franchise tag. Depending upon long-term contract negotiations, players such as Dallas DE DeMarcus Lawrence and Houston DE Jadeveon Clowney could be tagged. Other potential tagged players include Patriots OT Trent Brown, Atlanta DT Grady Jarrett, and Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski.
Notice there are no quarterbacks or wide receivers among those who could potentially be tagged. It is rare for skill position players to receive a tag. Since 1993, more offensive linemen (30) have been franchised than any other position. Defensive end (29) and linebacker (26) are next on the list.
Recent franchise tag history Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins became the first quarterback to be franchised in consecutive years when he was playing for Washington. Tagging players in consecutive years have actually happened 16 times since 1997. The most recent, of course, are Cousins, Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson, and Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell.
Bell’s story is interesting. He played under the franchise tag in 2017, earned just over $12 million, and was extremely productive. The Steelers used the tag again in 2018, which would have paid Bell $14.45 million. Bell and the Steelers couldn’t agree on a long-term deal and the All-Pro sat out the entire 2018 season. There is a possibility that Pittsburgh uses the transition tag on Bell this year. The Steelers will have until March 5 to decide.