It’s Tuesday, February 20. Which means the tag window is officially open.
Every team has the ability to use the franchise tag or the transition tag, from now through March 6 at 4:00 p.m. ET. Unless a team is hoping to send a powerful message, chances are that any tags will be exercised far closer to the deadline.
The transition tag gives the player’s current team the right to match an offer sheet signed with another team, but no compensation if the offer isn’t matched. The non-exclusive version of the franchise tag includes both the right to match and the right to a pair of first-round picks as compensation. The exclusive version of the franchise tag slams the door as to any opportunity to snatch the player.
Prior to 2011, the non-exclusive franchise tag was calculated based on the average of the five highest cap numbers at the position from the prior year. Starting with the current CBA, the formula changed to a process determined by the average cap percentage consumed by the tag at a given position over a five-year period. With the market at most positions not growing at a rate commensurate with the cap, this change has benefited players.
For example, Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell made $12.1 million under the franchise tag last year, even though the market for the position otherwise topped out at $8 million.
The exclusive tender comes the average of the five highest cap numbers at a given position for the current year or the non-exclusive tender, whichever is greater. Given the growth in the cap, and the lack of growth at the market for many positions, the non-exclusive and exclusive franchise tenders sometimes end up being the same.
This year, the prime candidates for either tag are Bell, Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry, Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson, Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, Giants offensive lineman Justin Pugh, Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah, and Rams receiver Sammy Watkins. None would likely join Sean Gilbert as the only player to sign an offer sheet as a franchise-tagged player, joining the Panthers and giving his former team (Washington) a pair of first-round picks.
If tagged, player can sign the tender at any time, making the one-year deal fully guaranteed. If the player doesn’t sign the tender, it can be rescinded at any time. (Two years ago, the Panthers removed the franchise tender from cornerback Josh Norman, and he signed with Washington.)
Two weeks from today, we’ll find out which guys get tagged. Those that do will have until July 16 to do a long-term deal. Those that don’t will be headed toward the open market, unless they sign a new contract with their current teams.