Transition tag continues to make little sense


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.

16 responses to “Transition tag continues to make little sense

  1. Al Davis originally wanted 5 Franchise tags per team per year, The Transition tag is a watered down second mechanism for a team to have an option on more than one player per year.

  2. They should change it so you get lower compensation, like a 2nd round pick for the transition tag.

  3. To me it seems lower risk than the franchise tag. And it doesn’t carry a resentment factor the player might have from it. As well as the higher cost on the team.

    Also there is the poison pill a rival team needs to make on the players contract to steal him away. The team is essentially cutting the player that everyone would say you would be crazy to do otherwise.

  4. therealraider says:

    “Al Davis originally wanted 5 Franchise tags per team per year, The Transition tag is a watered down second mechanism for a team to have an option on more than one player per year.”


    There are three types of tags:
    1. Exclusive-rights franchise tag
    2. Nonexclusive franchise tag
    3. Transition tag

    In any given year, only ONE of the above tags may be used on only ONE player (provided that player’s contract doesn’t prohibit the application of the tag).

    It’s not a “second second mechanism for a team to have an option on more than one player per year”. Only one player per year may receive one of the aforementioned tags.

  5. One thing with tags I would propose is two tags. One for an offensive bplayer, and one for a defensive player. Kickers+punters could be tagged as either an offensive or defensive tag.
    This means holding on to a vital player on both sides of the ball.

  6. It made a lot of sense with Miami last year.

    Charles Clay was a player who flashed talent over his career with Miami but would often disappear for a few games. It was tough for the team or any fan to foresee his future production and accurately assess his value.

    The transition tag worked well. It allowed the market to see what his value was. Miami did not overpay for a player out of fear. And Buffalo is now paying the price for an expensive player who is still widely inconsistent. And for a division rival, no less.

    Miami therefore was allowed to take a better risk on Cameron. Shorter contract that’s easier to jettison than for Clay. Miami might not have gotten the needed production, but they’re not strapped to Clay.

    Excellent use of the tag. It may make little sense, but it can still make sense.

  7. @ mrjdon

    I stand corrected. I had always assumed a transition tag and a franchise tag could be used concurrently in the same offseason but that the exlusive/non-exclusive franchise tags could not. I was mistaken.

  8. “So why do teams keep using the transition tag?”

    I’ll tell you why. It is because players have a nasty habit of cruising through their rookie contracts…until their contract year. Then they want to get paid, so they play harder.

    It’s impossible to spot a player planning to get paid and cruise or a player who legitimately turned a corner.

    Doug Williams in Tampa is a perfect example of that. A 50-50 player…2 good 2 bad years. Did he round a corner? Or was he trying to get paid?

    That’s why he needs to be franchised…to prove himself a 60-40 RB by doing well next year.

  9. I think Clay was worth the money for Buffalo. They’ve been a ghost yard at TE in recent years and don’t have another legit red zone threat on short yardage. Clay was open a ton this year. Another year for Tyrod and you’ll see him hitting Clay a lot more.

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