The NFL calendar is progressing toward the start of free agency and the 2019 league year. Around the league, teams are deciding which of their soon-to-be free agents they are going to re-sign, and as of this afternoon, teams have another choice they can begin utilizing. At 4pm ET today, the league’s franchise and transition tag period officially opens.
Here is everything you need to know about the tags and a look at what the Miami Dolphins could do with it this year:
What are the franchise and transition tags?
There are actually three tiers of tags that can be used on a player with an expiring contract that can keep him on his current team. There is 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.
What are the tag salaries?
The 2019 tag numbers are not set yet, but the 2018 numbers were:
Quarterback — $23.189 million
Running back — $11.866 million
Wide receiver — $15.982 million
Tight end — $9.846 million
Offensive line — $14.077 million
Defensive tackle — $13.939 million
Linebacker — $14.961 million
Cornerback — $14.975 million
Safety — $11.287 million
Kicker/Punter — $4.939 million
Quarterback — $20.922 million
Running back — $9.63 million
Wide receiver — $13.924 million
Tight end — $8.428 million
Offensive line — $12.525 million
Defensive end — $14.2 million
Defensive tackle — $11.407 million
Linebacker — $12.81 million
Cornerback — $12.971 million
Safety — $9.536 million
Kicker/Punter — $4.493 million
Over The Cap has estimated the 2019 franchise tag numbers to be:
Quarterback — $25.578 million
Running back — $11.98 million
Wide receiver — $17.101 million
Tight end — $10.93 million
Offensive line — $15.283 million
Defensive end— $18.653 million
Defensive tackle — $15.571 million
Linebacker — $15.777 million
Cornerback — $15.992 million
Safety — $12.037 million
Kicker/Punter — $5.162 million
How many tags can a team apply?
A team can only use one tag per season. It does not matter which type of tag is used, there can only be one tag applied per team per year.
What is the “window” for a franchise tag to be applied?
The league allows players to be tagged during a two-week period. The 2019 tag window opens today and will close on March 5. Typically teams will wait until closer to the end of the window to use their tag - nothing gets accomplished in the NFL if there is not a deadline forcing the action - but you could start to head about franchise tags being applied at any time over the next two weeks.
Once the tag is applied, is everything done?
No. The franchise/transition tag is exercised by the team and keeps the rights of the player with their current club, but the player does not have to sign the tender. Technically, the player is not under contract, even though he cannot join another team, until he signs the tender, so a player can skip workouts and events without incurring a penalty/fine. If it gets contentious, a player can even hold out into the season, as the Pittsburgh Steelers saw with running back Le’Veon Bell who skipped the entire season.
After a tag is applied, the team and the player can also negotiate a long-term contract that replaces the tag, but they only have until July 15 to do that. Some teams look at the tag as a tool to keep the player with the club until that longer contract can be finalized - and again, you will usually see that happen when there is something that forces it to happen, like the club needing to create salary cap space for a free agent or draft pick, or the July 15 date is getting close.
Will the Dolphins use a tag this year?
The list of potential free agents from the Dolphins does not appear to have any major tag candidates on it. The team could look at offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James or defensive end Cameron Wake as players they do not want to lose, but that would tie up around $15 million or $18 million in the salary cap. Each of them counted around $9.5 million last year against the cap. It would seem to make more sense to just get new contracts completed prior to the start of free agency.
The Dolphins used the franchise tag on Jarvis Landry last year. He signed the tender, clearing the way for the Dolphins to trade him to the Cleveland Browns.