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NFL Franchise Tag

NFL Franchise Tag: What Does it Mean?

By Loot, NFL Handicapper,

For any fan who has even followed NFL football casually, you have surely heard of the “franchise tag.” While some may have a vague understanding of what it is, for most people it’s a bit murky of a concept. A few weeks after the Super Bowl and right before the free agency market opens in March, teams have the option of giving one player the franchise tag.

At root, the franchise tag is given to a player who is due to become a free agent. The team uses it as a way to keep the player on the team, rather than running the risk of losing the player to free agency. The player who receives the franchise tag cannot hit the free agent market and receives what amounts to a one-year deal with the team, with the player receiving an average salary of the top five players at that position.

Obviously, players dislike the franchise tag. Sure, it’s a vote of confidence. For a team to franchise tag a player means he is very valuable to the team. But for the player, it prevents them from seeking a rich multi-year contract from another team. And in the fickle world of NFL football, a hot commodity this year might not be as hot the following year. For a truly top player, being franchise tagged means a lot of money is lost.

There can be different reasons why a player receives the franchise tag. Perhaps the team knows it won’t be able to pay the player the contract he wishes and would like to keep him for another year at what amounts to below-market pay. Or maybe the team has tried or plans to continue trying to sign the player to a longterm deal and uses the franchise tag as an insurance policy. And there have been players who worked out longterm contracts with the team shortly after being franchise tagged.


The franchise tag is a well-intentioned idea meant to even the playing field between the big market teams and their smaller-market counterparts. When a team franchise tags a player, it affords them some time. This time can be used to clear room to sign the player, as well as enabling the team to seek other options in the event that they will not likely be able to retain the player’s services. It’s meant to cut down on the recovery time a team will need when a top player leaves the team rather suddenly.

There are two types of franchise tags--of the “exclusive” and “non-exclusive” variety. The exclusive franchise tag means that player will be given a one-year deal that is no less than the average of the top-five earning players at that position or 120% of his previous year’s contract amount--whichever is more. Players given the exclusive franchise tag cannot negotiate with other teams. A non-exclusive franchise player will also receive a one-year deal no less than the average of the top five paid players at that position. But he may negotiate with other teams and if he does sign, the team has the right to match the offer. If the team loses the player, that team gets compensated with two first-round draft picks.

There is also a “transition tag,” which a team can use on one other player. The transition tag player receives an average of the top ten players at a position with the right to negotiate with other teams. If the transition tag player signs with another team, the first team can match the offer and the player will remain with that team. If the team does not match the offer, the player leaves to his new team and there is no compensation.

While players generally do not want to receive a franchise tag, the amounts are pretty staggering. Here is an example of what the five highest-earning players average out at for each position from the 2014 NFL season:

Quarterback: $18.5M
Running Back: $11M
Wide Receiver: $13M
Tight End: $8.3M
Offensive Lineman: $13M
Defensive Tackle: $11M
Defensive End: $14.8M
Linebacker: $13M
Cornerback: $13M
Safety: $9.6M
Kicker/Punter: $4.2M

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