Last week’s meeting between roughly 60 players and six agents resulting in a memo from the NFL Players Association that painted the session as acrimonious happened because the NFLPA wanted to give agents a voice in advance of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. As part of that, the NFLPA wanted the agents to provide some specific advice regarding things the players should offer in order to get things the players want from the owners.
As one source explained it to PFT, the players want to get rid of the franchise tag as part of the next labor deal, and they asked the agents how to get there. One agent suggested that the players should offer to expand the regular season to 18 games. Per the source, the players did not respond well to that suggestion.
But here’s the thing: That’s the kind of major concession that would be needed to get the owners to give up one of the most significant facets of the relationship with players. (Indeed, as another source suggested, 18 games may not be enough to get rid of the franchise tag.)
Baked into the CBA for 25 years, the franchise tag — aimed in name at allowing teams to keep “franchise” players who were critical to the team — gives teams far more power than the ability to squat on a single key player. Instead, it allows the teams to squat on a single free agent every year, keeping him from going to the open market and receiving the best deal that can be negotiated for him and then doing it all over again the next year.
The players have made gains regarding the device, making it harder to franchise tag a player a third time in 2006 and crafting in 2011 a new formula for calculating base franchise tenders, ensuring that the number will grow commensurate with the growth of the salary cap. More recently, individual players from Kirk Cousins to Trumaine Johnson to Le'Veon Bell have shown that the players have rights under the franchise tag, either by refusing to sign long-term deals and forcing their way to market or sitting out a full year and forcing their way to market.
Still, the franchise tag prevents the natural growth of the market at all positions by keeping the best of them from stretching the rubber band to its limit and then allowing others to use their contracts as benchmarks or upper limits for their own. While some would say that getting rid of it would help only a small handful of players, it would help far more than that by ultimately forcing teams to exceed the rolling minimum expenditure of 89 percent of the salary cap (which allows the owners to pocket, at the current cap of $188.2 million, more than $20 million in raw profits each year) and perhaps return to the days when so much was being spent on players that the term “cash over cap” had relevance.