The NFL’s 2022 franchise tag window opened today, allowing teams to place a franchise or transition tag on a soon-to-be free agent, keeping him with the team for one additional year. The plus side of placing a tag on a player from the team perspective is they keep a player they consider essential to their team, while locking in a negotiating window for a longer term contract. The down-side is a franchise tag is not cheap, with a player guaranteed at least 120 percent of his previous year’s salary, but, depending on the type of tag, potentially a lot more than that.
From the player’s perspective, they get a fully guaranteed contract, which is a positive, but it is only for one year, which is a negative. It also prevents them from potentially hitting the open market and signing an even bigger contract. It was originally designed to be a positive for both sides, with the player getting a large payday while the team is protected from losing a key player. It has evolved into a move that can cause some animosity between player and club.
There are three types of tags, the exclusive franchise tag, the non-exclusive franchise tag, and the transition tag. A team can use any of the options, but they can only use one per year. They have the right to rescind the tag, but it still counts as having been used for that offseason.
The NFL deadline for placing a tag is Mar. 8, 2022. Teams will have until July 15 to reach a deal on a new contract for a tagged player or he will spend the season on the tag.
The exclusive franchise tag prevents a player from negotiating with any other team - thus the “exclusive” part of the name - and has the highest salary among the three types of tags. To calculate the one-year guaranteed salary, it is the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position for the current year, or 120 percent of his previous salary, whichever is greater.
The non-exclusive franchise tag allows a player to negotiate a contract with another team, with the current team then allowed to match the offer. If the current team does not match, then the new team provides two first-round draft picks to the current team as compensation - basically a two first-round pick trade for the player. The salary for a non-exclusive tag is typically a little lower, with the top five salaries over the last five years used to calculate the deal, or, again, a 120 percent pay increase from the previous year for the player, whichever is higher. The compensation and the lowered salary leads to the non-exclusive tag being the predominant tag used - and when “franchise tag” is used as a generic term, it is typically this tag being discussed.
The transition tag is the lowest of the three tag options, with the salary calculated from the top ten salaries from the player’s position. The player can negotiate with another team, with his current team having the right to match any offer. The current team does not receive any compensation should they choose to not match the offer.
Estimated 2022 Franchise / Transition Tag numbers
The salary cap also plays into the calculation of tag numbers, though that is not officially set yet for this season. The expectation is that it will be $208.2 million, as the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero said in December, but that has not been finalized. According to OverTheCap.com, the estimated tag numbers for 2022 are:
- Quarterback: $28.6 million (franchise tag) / $25.7 million (transition tag)
- Running back: $12.5 million / $10.1 million
- Wide receiver: $19.1 million / $16.7 million
- Tight end: $10.8 million / $9.3 million
- Offensive line: $16.7 million / $15 million
- Defensive tackle: $16.9 million / $13.6 million
- Defensive end: $20.2 million / $16.6 million
- Linebacker: $17.4 million / $14.9 million
- Cornerback: $17.3 million / $14.9 million
- Safety: $13.5 million / $11.3 million
- Special teams: $5.5 million / $5 million
Will the Dolphins use a tag?
Which brings us to the Miami Dolphins. They have several players headed to free agency this year and they could look to use the franchise tag to keep one of them. There are two potential targets that make sense for the Dolphins: tight end Mike Gesicki and defensive lineman Emmanuel Ogbah. The team would like to keep both of them and the tag may come into play to guarantee a longer negotiating window to reach a long-term contract.
Tagging Gesicki might lead to an arbitration fight as Gesicki tries to argue he does not play tight end, but is a receiver for the Dolphins. Miami does not ask him to block like a typical tight end and they do spread him out, but he does play on the line a lot more than a receiver would. He likely would be classified as tight end, giving him the $10.8 million franchise tag number, but obviously he would like to see that wide receiver $19.1 million number.
Ogbah has become a big part of the Dolphins’ pass rush, leading the team in sacks each of the last two seasons. He is in line for a large increase from his two-year, $15 million contract he signed with Miami in 2020. If he were to be tagged, he would move from an annual average salary of $7.5 million to a guaranteed number of $20.2 million.
The Dolphins have many choices to make this year when it comes to building the roster for new head coach Mike McDaniel. If the Dolphins can use this franchise tag window to come to a long-term deal with either Gesicki or Ogbah, the team could then look to the tag as a way to extend the negotiating window with the other. Placing the tag on either of them would eat a large chunk of the team’s salary cap space for the 2022 free agency period, however. Miami does have the most salary cap space in the league heading into the offseason, though, so there is some ability to absorb a big hit.
The Dolphins could tag one of the two, then negotiate a long-term deal that includes moving some of the guaranteed money from the tag into a signing bonus, bringing down the cap hit. A player is not going to want to lose any of the guaranteed money they were offered in the franchise tag, but there are ways with a longer term deal to bring down the cap number.
Deadlines drive action, so teams will typically wait until closer to the March 8 to place the tag on a player. We have a couple of weeks to wait to see if the Dolphins do decide to use the tag this year.