In the years before the transition tag did not become fully guaranteed upon signing, it made some sense to use it. And multiple teams did. Since the transition tag became fully guaranteed as part of the 2006 CBA extension, it has been used more sparingly.
The reason is simple. To use the transition tag, a significant investment on a one-year guaranteed deal is required, and if the player signs an offer sheet elsewhere that isn’t matched, there’s no compensation. By kicking in a little more on a one-year deal, the current team gets two first-round picks if the player leaves — which means for most players that he won’t be leaving.
But teams still use it, even though the end result in recent years hasn’t been great. When the Browns applied it to center Alex Mack, Mack finagled an offer sheet from the Jaguars with a provision allowing him to void the deal after two years. Now, two years later, the Browns have to worry about whether Mack will leave, along with what it may take to keep him to stay.
Last year, the Dolphins used the transition tag on tight end Charles Clay, who was gobbled up by a division rival with an offer sheet Miami wouldn’t match.
In both cases, another million or two on a one-year franchise tender would have kept that from happening.
So why do teams keep using the transition tag? Some may be doing it just to see what the player’s value is, knowing that if it’s too high they’ll let him walk. Others possibly don’t want the franchise tender to lay the foundation for a long-term deal.
Regardless, if anyone gets the transition tag this year (the Rams have leaked that they’re considering it with cornerback Trumaine Johnson), there’s no reason to think the outcome will be any different than what has happened the last two years. Either Johnson will get an offer sheet the Rams can’t or won’t match, or he’ll get an offer sheet with a legitimate poison pill embedded in it.
Whatever happens, don’t expect Johnson to adopt the same approach as former Steelers tackle Max Starks. When Pittsburgh applied the transition tag to Starks in 2008 — and once he realized the salary became fully guaranteed when the tender is accepted — Starks signed it. Johnson, per a league source, won’t be signing the transition tender, if it’s applied. Instead, he’ll be doing exactly what Mack did in 2014 and what Clay did in 2015: Looking aggressively for an offer from another team.