Every year, teams have a two-week window within which to apply the franchise tag to keep players otherwise due to become unrestricted free agents from hitting the market unfettered.
This year, the window opens today — February 5.  And it closes at 4:00 p.m. EST on February 19.
Most eyes are watching the Patriots and quarterback Matt Cassel.  The prevailing thought is that the Pats will use the tag on Cassel, even though it will result in a guaranteed one-year salary of $14.65 million, and more than $29 million in cap space for two guys at one position.
But we still think that there’s a chance the Pats will work out a short-term deal that pays Cassel handsomely, and that permits him to eventually become the heir to Tom Brady.
It remains to be seen whether the Pats will have to use the franchise tag in order to make it happen.
Last year, the Patriots didn’t use the franchise tag on Randy Moss, eventually re-signing him after no significant market emerged for his services.  It won’t work that way with Cassel, who likely would be flooded with big-money offers as of 12:01 a.m. on February 27, if he hits the market.
Other players and teams to watch (and we’re surely missing someone here) include the Ravens and linebackers Bart Scott, Ray Lewis, or Terrell Suggs; the Bengals and receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh; the Raiders and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha; the Chargers and running back Darren Sproles; the Eagles and tight end L.J. Smith; the Giants and running backs Brandon Jacobs or Derrick Ward; the Panthers and defensive end Julius Peppers or tackle Jordan Gross; and the Cardinals and linebacker Karlos Dansby or quarterback Kurt Warner.
Comprehensive background information about the tag appears after the jump.

The 1993 labor deal between the league and the NFLPA created the franchise tag as a way to help teams keep players who might otherwise leave via free agency.
Each team has one franchise tag that can be used per year. 
By using the tag, the team must tender to the player a one-year salary equal to the average cap number from the prior season of the five highest-paid players at the position, or 120 percent of the franchise player’s salary from the prior year, whichever is greater.
A player who is restricted via the franchise tag may negotiate and sign with another team.  If a new team signs the player to an offer sheet, the current team has seven days to match.  If the current team chooses not to match, the current team receives two first-round draft picks as compensation.
Under the “exclusive” version of the franchise tag, the player is prohibited from talking with other teams.  In that case, the salary is determined by the cap numbers of the five highest-paid players at the same position in the current year.  As a result, the number can increase as new deals are done — especially if teams with plenty of cap space use current-year roster bonuses.  (In 2008, the Raiders used the exclusive version of the tag on Asomugha.)
It’s rare that a team coughs up two first-round picks for a franchise player.  Typically, a trade is brokered for something less than the two first-round picks.  (Last year, however, the Vikings seriously pondered signing Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen to an offer sheet after the 2008 draft, which would have transferred to the Chiefs a first-round pick in 2009 and 2010.)
The current team and the player have until July 15 to work out a multi-year deal.  Thereafter, the current team and the player can do a one-year deal only.
Until the player accepts the franchise tender, he’s not under contract and cannot participate in offseason workouts, mandatory minicamps, training camp, or the preseason.  In past years, some franchise players have waited to sign the tender until the eve of the regular season.  In such cases, the player still receives the full amount of the franchise salary, guaranteed.
The risk in waiting, however, is that the team could rescind the franchise tag, making the player an unrestricted free agent.  If the tag is rescinded after the first wave of the free agency spending spree has ended, the player could be hard pressed to find a better deal.
In 2001, the Eagles yanked the tag on linebacker Jeremiah Trotter in June.  In 2005, they pulled the same maneuver on defensive tackle Corey Simon.
Earlier that same year, Colts running back Edgerrin James signed his franchise tender at a time when he feared that the tag would be yanked.  Charles Woodson of the Raiders did the same thing, prompting an angry reaction from the franchise.
And even though 2010 is scheduled to be an uncapped year, the franchise tag will survive.  Which means that guys who think they’ll be in line for an unlimited windfall next year at this time might want to think again.


  1. In a related story, the Jaguars announce they will not be using the Franchise tag on any of it’s unrestricted free agents. But they will be putting the “Stay Away From Our Franchise” tag on free agents Reggie Williams and Kalhif Barnes, and the “Stop Stealing From Our Franchise” tag on Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence!

  2. Oh yeah… I’m sure there’s a ton of demand for LJ Smith. He’s deadlocked with Heap on the record for consecutive years on the injury report. Eagles should be looking for his replacement/compliment to Celek.

  3. The only tag LJ Smith will see will be the tags on his luggage at the airport as he’s leaving Philly.

  4. Bucs could tag Antonio Bryant if they don’t feel comfortable working a long term deal with him.

  5. Nnamdi Asomugha is the one im looking at because we really need a CB of his caliber the only thing is that i dont think we have the money to sign him if he doesn’t get tagged bc we wasted are money signing grant and smith to 120 mill……

  6. >>>There is 0% chance that the Eagles will tag LJ Smith; this year. <<<
    0% is too high ….

  7. Can someone please fill me in on the situation, I can’t quite remember how it goes. Florrio says that the Patriots didn’t tag Randy Moss but resigned him when no market for his services emerged. I do remember Moss going to the point of free agency but I thought I remembered him and the team basically saying that him coming back was going to happen and they were just taking their time.
    I could be wrong but I find it difficult to believe that a serious market wouldn’t develop around a WR that just set the new, single season TD record.

  8. An heir to Brady? Brady isn’t that old that succession planning is necessary, is he?

  9. The Eagles offered more to Moss then what he signed in NE for! There was a market for him but he just wanted to stay in NE! Florrio miss the fact mark once again!

  10. If Pats sign Cassel, it’s b/c they are worried about Brady and hopefully that won’t be an issue, netting some draft picks this year. If he agrees to a reasonable contract, it won’t be to groom as Brady’s replacement – it would be to be 1 year of insurance – Brady will be around a long time at a high level…

  11. With Tom Brady recently announcing that he wants to play until he’s 40, I’m not sure Cassel wants to wait around on the bench all that long.
    Word from Shefter is that Cassel, if traded and signed to another team, would command a $25 mil signing bonus. There’s no offer the Pats could make to equal that.
    However, Cassel does have the option of signing a $14.5 mil tender if and when its offered. Many discount that possibility – but doing so would give him more guaranteed money over the next 2 years than accepting a trade and long term contract.
    If he signed it, that would harm his trade value this year and the Pats might be stuck with him for one year – which given the uncertainty of Brady’s health for Week 1, might not be a bad thing.
    But chances are Cassell collects his $14.5 million sitting on the bench (or starting the first few games til Brady is fully ready to go). What’s the downside for him? He has little risk of injury on the bench and is a free agent next season – when, having done no harm to his value by sitting on the bench, collects $25 mil or MORE guaranteed (in a year that might not have a salary cap no less).
    That brings him to $40 million guranteed over 2 years – plus whatever salaries he can realistically earn in a longterm contract signed in 2010. The incentive of an extra $14.5 million guaranteed with virtually no risk to his ability to ALSO obtain a $25 million signing bonus in 2010 might be a nice temptation.

  12. Moss was actually offered more money to play in Philly. Cassel will be franchised and traded. That is the inside word.

  13. Agree there is no chance Eagles will tag Smith. What sport were you guys watching this year. Also, don’t forget that the Eagles went after Randy Moss, who never had any intention of leaving New England, which is probably why he wasn’t tagged.

  14. There are two steelers who might deserve to make the free agency list. First is Max Starks. Jordan Gross is very good, but he’s never won a title. Starks has started for Super Bowl Champs at both tackle positions, and is only like 27. That’s a good resume. Bryant McFadden should be highly regarded also, as he has good size, two super bowls, and is young also.

  15. The Carolina situation will be very interesting… do you tag Julius Peppers, who will be the #1 free agent, a dominating pass rusher… or do you tag the corner stone of your offensive line in left tackle Jordan Gross? I bet the Panthers are working feverishly to get one of them signed before free agency hits.

  16. Lemme get this straight… You think they’ll work out a deal with Cassel to be the Steve Young to Brady’s Joe Montana? Isn’t Brady only 31?
    BTW, I enjoyed the history lesson. That’s one of the reason why I like this site.

  17. Cassel would be very stupid to sign any kind of short-term deal that isn’t a franchise tag offer sheet. His stock will never be higher than it is right now. And if the Patriots tag him, then we know it’s complete bullshit that Brady is “on schedule”. No team is going to sell the house for a 1 year guy who was playing behind a solid line with Moss and Welker running the routes. Too many teams have been burned too many times going after 1 hit wonders, and while I think Cassel is a quality QB and a starter, the price may be too high if he’s tagged.

  18. There is a better chance of the Eagles placing the franchise tag on Vox than there is on L.J. Smith. He is gone, and some other sucker will sign him and find out that he sucks.
    When the Eagles tagged him last year I was shocked. I would have cut his ass 3 years ago.

  19. If Al Davis has any sense left, he will tag Nnamdi and then let teams come knocking for his services. The Raiders could use some draft picks to help with young stars like Russell and Mcfadden.

  20. If both Nnamdi and Peppers hit the open market Belichick is going to be licking his chops…

  21. Ok, that’s the franchise tag. Isn’t there also a transition tag? I thought so, but I haven’t seen it mentioned in a long time.

  22. “There is a better chance of the Eagles placing the franchise tag on Vox than there is on L.J. Smith. He is gone, and some other sucker will sign him and find out that he sucks.”
    The only good thing you can say about LJ is that at least they didn’t use a first round pick on him. On the other hand, they used that saved #1 pick on Jerome McDougal. Nice scouting, guys!

  23. Exit Zero says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 1:43 pm
    The Eagles offered more to Moss then what he signed in NE for! There was a market for him but he just wanted to stay in NE! Florrio miss the fact mark once again!
    Thank you for clarifying that for me, now I do remember that coming out after the season.

  24. JoeSixPack says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 1:52 pm
    Joe – signing the franchise tag does not preclude a sign and trade with another team. The Patriots don’t pay a dime, nor does any money go to their cap space it a sign and trade is worked out prior to the season. So, if Cassel is franchised he would have options. Sign a cap friendly longer term deal with the Patriots or the Patriots can sniff around and try to arrange a sign and trade with another team that would be acceptable to both parties OR he signs the franchise contract for the $14 million,stays in New England sit on the bench and pockets the money.
    In another words- getting franchised by the Patriots would NOT be a “SLAP” as he is going to be a very rich dude some where very soon. I wish I could get slapped to the tune of 14-40 million. I would not be crying about it one bit.

  25. “…Jordan Gross is very good, but he’s never won a title.”
    This isn’t an individual sport you moron, I would take Gross over Starks in a heartbeat.

  26. I never said Starks is as good as Gross. Are you like 16 years old or what? All I said was Starks is going to be a very rich man, and he has a very impressive resume. Learn the game buddy, then talk.

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