Players have the power to turn the tables on the franchise tag

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For players, the franchise tag stinks. But the one-per-club, once-per-year device for restricting a player who otherwise would be an unrestricted free agent has been baked into the relationship between the league and the men who play the game for more than a quarter century, and it’s not going away any time soon.

But the players whose opportunities to hit the open market have been limited by the franchise tag have begun to realize that they have rights, too. And they have begun to assert those rights, in a way that possibly has made the teams begin to think twice about embarking on the annual franchise-tag dance.

It actually began more than a decade ago, when Hall of Fame tackle Walter Jones received the franchise tag for three straight years from the Seahawks, stayed away until the start of the regular season each year, and ultimately cashed in with a long-term deal after pocketing three years of the franchise tender. In 2006, the NFL and NFL Players Association altered the Collective Bargaining Agreement to make it harder for teams to franchise tag a player three straight times, bumping the third tag to the quarterback tender or a 44-percent increase over the second franchise tag, whichever is greater.

It took players a while to realize the power that they had under the franchise tag, if they are willing to refuse to sign long-term deals and instead to play year-to-year under the franchise tag. Last year, quarterback Kirk Cousins and cornerback Trumaine Johnson forced their way to the open market in lieu of being tagged a third time, and the template for other franchise-tagged players became obvious: Carry the injury risk for two years of the tag, and then finally get the chance to cash in.

Last year, running back Le'Veon Bell took it to another level, showing that non-quarterbacks have a path to unrestricted free agency by sitting out the second year of the franchise tag, which still forces a team to use the quarterback tender the next year. Which in turn makes it highly unlikely that a third tag will be applied.

Thus, while the franchise tag continues to stink for players, players can make it stink for teams — by refusing to accept long-term offers, by staying away as late as possible until the start of the regular season after a first tag, and either by forcing the team to use the quarterback tender or pay a 44-percent increase for the third tag or (again for non-quarterbacks) sitting out the entire year and making it as a practical matter impossible to franchise tag him a third time.

That’s why it’s not a surprise that Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark (pictured) reportedly vows to stay away until Labor Day, if he doesn’t get the long-term deal he thinks he deserves. And that’s also why it’s not a surprise that Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence seems to be contemplating skipping the entire season and hitting the open market in 2020, unless the Cowboys want to keep him with the quarterback franchise tender.

More franchise-tagged players need to behave this way, even if fans and media and teammates and coaches pressure them to show up and play. The teams have robbed these players of their ability to get paid on the open market, and these players have the power to disrupt things by withholding services and/or declining to give their teams a way out of the franchise-tag maze by accepting a long-term offer that pales in comparison to what they’d make on the open market.

The more that the franchise-tagged players aggressively pursue their rights, the more that the teams will think twice before using the franchise tag in the first place. While it would be better for all players if the franchise tag went away altogether, it’s good that players have decided to take a stand against this artificial device for keeping free agents from becoming free agents.

And as more players take a stand, the less likely teams will be to use the franchise tag as a knee-jerk device to deny the players the shot at the open market that their efforts and abilities have earned for them.

20 responses to “Players have the power to turn the tables on the franchise tag

  1. “deny the players the shot at the open market that their efforts and abilities have earned for them.”
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    Nice try. Teams are only using the tools given to them under the CBA. The PLAYERS negotiated and AGREED to the franchise tag.

  2. You hear commentors on this very site say players should honor their contracts…yet the really good players who do honor their contracts seem to be getting franchise tagged once or twice…

    And if Florio is right and that players who sit out a whole year under the 2nd tag are eligible for a 44% raise the following year…expect more players to do just that…

    These idiot owners don’t realize if they wait til a really good player’s contract is up…negotiations begin with a floor of the franchise tag…because if they cant come to a deal…that’s exactly what’s gonna happen…so why would a player accept any deal below the value of the franchise tag…?

  3. Obviously players want the long term deals because of the signing bonus but without guaranteed contracts, its really a year by year deal anyway…Look at Antonio Brown, he gets the signing bonus but talks his way out of Pitts, with the cap number still in place…Players should sign their one year deals, stay healthy, play hard and force their teams to sign them longterm…Teams rightfully want the franchise tags to keep their players motivated

  4. Considering there is a virtually zero percent chance Le’veon Bell makes the $14 million he lost last year back in a FA deal, I would say this is very bad advice.

    If players want to change or eliminate the franchise tag, their best route is through collective bargaining.

  5. I don’t like holdouts, but good play deserves good pay, and the more players who chase that top dollar, the less there is to go around individually. Seems like a problem that takes care of itself.

  6. Paul says:
    March 10, 2019 at 10:38 pm
    Get rid of the union and if the players don’t like to make millions they can find new employment.
    ————————————

    Why don’t we eliminate the ability to negotiate your salary

  7. The teams have robbed these players of their ability to get paid on the open market

    And here I am thinking that this was agreed to by the NFLPA, thanks for setting me straight.

  8. Even though none of the Bell haters will admit it he actually did a huge service to his fellow players. Don’t tell them that was his plan all along or they’ll get real mad and tell you how selfish he is

  9. Once you’re a free agent, you’re free.
    Get rid of the franchise tag, restricted free agent & comp attached to the team losing any free agent.
    Once you’re free, you’re free.

    While we are at it, get rid of compensatory picks too.

  10. and let them change teams whenever they want. like, if the coach yells at you, just pick another team. presto-problems solved!

  11. Ok, so help me out here cuz I’m puzzled.

    How is the franchise tag a denial or restriction on anyone’s “rights”?

    Just exactly what “right” is it?

    The CBA exists and is a legal agreement, so unless a ream(s) is violating it with their application of the franchise tag, how is anyone being denied their (ambiguous) right?

  12. Ok, so help me out here cuz I’m puzzled.

    How is the franchise tag a denial or restriction on anyone’s “rights”?

    Just exactly what “right” is it?

    The CBA exists and is a legal agreement, so unless a ream(s) is violating it with their application of the franchise tag, how is anyone being denied their (ambiguous) right?

  13. Players have the right if not the obligation to make as much as they can while they can. Accepting the injury risk for 2 years under the franchise tag is good advice but sitting out a year isn’t. The 14 or 16 million Bell would have made last year will never be recouped. He is in the exact same position he would have been had he played but without a year’s pay.

  14. Bells path was not a smart one, but Cousin’s was. The Tag is actually a good thing for the player if they embrace it to their advantage. Take out an insurance policy against the injury risk and watch your price get driven up steadily. It does require a belief in ones own ability to keep up their value on field is all. The only thing that cant be insured against is poor play. Because other wise you get a fat raise each year they want to drag that out and your FA orice goes up for when you finally do hit the market. By the time Cousins had hit the market he was so set for life that even straight out retirement was an option.

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