The deadline for signing franchise-tagged players to multi-year deals has come and gone. So what happens next?
For the two tagged players who have accepted their tenders (Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki and Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz), they’ll proceed for 2022 at guaranteed salaries of $10.9 million. Next year, their teams will have to decide whether to tag them again, at an increase of 20 percent over their 2022 pay (i.e., $13.08 million), or to let them leave via free agency. After the regular season ends, they can once again be signed to multi-year deals.
By 2024, when the third franchise tag essentially becomes quarterback money, they’ll be gone.
For the two tagged players who remain unsigned (Chiefs tackle Orlando Brown and Bengals safety Jessie Bates), neither is under contract with their teams. They can skip training camp and all of the preseason, with no financial penalty. They can show up not long before the start of the regular season and receive their full salaries.
They also can hold out into the regular season, if they’re willing to sacrifice their game checks. There will be a deadline for accepting the tender and getting credit for the current tag year (we’ll re-learn the specifics if/when they don’t show up for Week One).
The Bengals and/or Chiefs also can sign either player to a one-year deal with different terms than the amount of their tender. More money can be offered. A promise can be made to not tag the player in 2023. The only limitation is the length of the contract. It can’t last for more than one year.
Although the franchise tag continues to be a device for keeping otherwise unrestricted free agents off the open market, players continue to have rights under the system. They can go year to year for two years and then, most likely, become unrestricted free agents. (As explaineds in Playmakers, Kirk Cousins and Trumaine Johnson proved this point in 2018.)
For Bates, it may take only one year. The Bengals typically let franchise-tagged players leave after a single season under the tag.
Still, for non-quarterbacks, the risk of injury is real. Although the franchise tag pays out a good salary for one season, it doesn’t come with the long-term security that a market-value deal provides, with at least two years of fully-guaranteed salary — or more.
All four franchise-tagged players likely will be playing for their teams in 2022. The question is whether they’ll be there in 2023. And, if not, whether they’ll get the kind of contract on the open market next year that they would have gotten this year.