The NFL’s franchise tag window officially opened on Wednesday, giving teams two weeks to decide if they want to use one of the three tag options available to keep a top-tier potential free agent. A tag has to be placed on a player no later than 4pm ET on March 1.
The three tiers of a tag are the non-exclusive franchise tag, the exclusive franchise tag, and the transition tag. The non-exclusive tag is a one-year tender offer giving the player a fully-guaranteed salary equal to the average of the top five players’ salaries at the specific position over the past five years, or 120 percent of the tagged player’s salary from the previous season, whichever is more. A player may negotiate a contract with another team, but, if the original team does not match the deal, the new team would send two first-round picks to the original club.
The exclusive franchise tag prevents the player from being able to negotiate with another club, but does increase the fully-guaranteed salary to the average of the top five players’ salaries at the specific position for the current year, or, again, 120 percent of last year’s salary for the tagged player, whichever is more.
The transition tag is another one-year tender, but is now the top ten salaries rather than the top five for players at the specific position. The player can negotiate with a new club, with the original club having the right to match the deal. If the original team does not match, there is no compensation from the new team owed.
The Miami Dolphins used the transition tag on Charles Clay back in the 2015 offseason, then did not match when the Buffalo Bills made a contract offer to him. They also used the transition tag last year on Olivier Vernon, who signed with the New York Giants.
A team can only use one tag per season.
Teams can negotiate long-term contracts with a player they tag until 4pm ET on July 15. After that date, the player will have to play the 2017 season under the tag.
The Dolphins this offseason do not seem likely to use any tag, though the repeated use of the transition tag could suggest the team will consider its use. Miami has two potential free agents they could consider tagging, wide receiver Kenny Stills or defensive end Andre Branch. A transition tag could allow the team to let the player they choose to tag to hit the free agent market, negotiate a contract, then give Miami the ability to match that contract if they feel he is worth the value. It is a gamble, especially if a team comes in and gives the player a contract structured in a way that makes Miami unable to match, but it does allow for the player and team to get a true sense of his market value.
Despite the tagging window opening today, most teams wait until closer to the deadline to decide how to use it.
The final values for the tenders has not been released. It will be based on percentages of the final salary cap for the 2017 season.