NFL teams can place franchise or transition tags on players who were set to become free agents in 2021 in a two-week window from Feb. 23 through March 9. 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.
A franchise tag still leaves room for negotiation on a long-term contract. The NFL’s deadline in 2021 for teams and tagged players to agree upon and sign a multi-year extension remains July 15. Over the past six years, about half of the franchise tagged players have received such deals.
The trend for NFL teams had been to hold off on the use of tags before 2020. But last year, with teams taking advantage of the extension and changes related to a new collective bargaining agreement, 15 players were tagged at various values across positions, including the Cowboys giving quarterback Dak Prescott an exclusive designation and the Cardinals putting the transition tag on running back Kenyan Drake. With the salary cap going down to around $180 million, there should fewer, more calculated tags used in 2021.
There are three types of tags teams could use between Feb. 23 and March 9 — 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.
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.
NFL franchise tag deadline 2021
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 would need to 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 2021
The following franchise and transition tag values are projections by OverTheCap.com based on a $180.5 million salary cap. The numbers are lower than last offseason because of a lesser cap, with the notable exceptions of those players who were franchise-tagged last year and might get tagged again this year, such as Prescott, Broncos safety Justin Simmons, Chargers tight end Hunter Henry and Washington guard Brandon Scherff.
Per Over the Cap, “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.”
|Pos.||Franchise tag||Transition tag|
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
Teams have yet to designate any players for the current offseason. Here’s a look at the eight best candidates for the franchise tag in 2021:
|Yannick Ngakoue||DE||Jaguars (traded to Vikings)|
|Brandon Scherff||G||Washington Football Team|
Tadd Haislop contributed to this article.