NFL Franchise Tag: Explaining the Franchise Tag for Dummies Like Me

Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /
Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

NFL free agency opens up on March 12th but teams have until Monday to decide whether or not they’ll be using their franchise tag on an exiting free agent. But the franchise tag is so incredibly confusing to understand, fans are often times confused beyond belief about what it means if and when their team uses a franchise tag on a player.

I’m not an NFL executive, I’m not a math major or a lawyer. So I understand the frustration that comes from fans when people try to explain the franchise tag to them in legal jargon. To be blunt, if someone tries to explain to you how the franchise tag works but they use big words, they’re over-compensating for the fact that they really don’t know themselves what they’re talking about.

So let’s simplify things and try to understand the franchise tag together on the most primitive and simple level possible.

The way the franchise tag works is this: if a team has a free agent with an expiring contract they can place a franchise tag on him which takes him off the market and blocks other teams from negotiating a contract with that player.

From here, it starts to get kind of confusing.

Basically all you need to know is teams can tag an exiting free agent but they’ll have to pay a hefty price to keep him on their roster. For example, if the Baltimore Ravens tag Joe Flacco, they’ll have to pay him close x-amount of dollars in 2013 because x-amount of dollars amounts to the average of the total franchise tender over the last five years. A franchise tag only allows a team one more season with that player and the x-amount of dollars that is calculated out is automatically guaranteed (unless the tagged player clearly shows a lack of physical effort, but that’s getting technical). After tagging a player it is up to the player and the team to work out a long term deal in order to avoid having to pay x-amount of dollars for one year and then going through this all over again the very next offseason.

So if the Ravens tag Joe Flacco, they must work out a long term deal with him otherwise they’re stuck paying him x-amount of dollars next season. Usually, unless you’re franchising a kicker or punter, the tag is kind of a rip off, as you’re sometimes overpaying a player for a single season of work.

Here’s where things get messy: there are two kinds of tags, non-exclusive and exclusive.

They’re actually quite simple if you strip away all the legal jargon and translate all the Latin (okay, there’s no Latin but seriously it’s worded in such a douchey lawyer-ish way). An exclusive tag means you have the right to exclusively negotiate with a player and non-exclusive means everyone can negotiate with that player but the team applying the tag has the right to match whatever offer is made to that player.

2013 Tentative Franchise Tag Value

























Outside of that, the only difference between the exclusive and non-exclusive tags is that the an exclusive tag means a player must be offered the average the last five franchise tenders at his position before him and a non-exclusive player gets either that or 120 percent of his previous salary, whichever is higher. To put it simply you face paying a premium for the exclusive rights to negotiate with a tagged player.

From here, it gets really simple as exclusive means no one can negotiate with that player save for the team that tagged him and non-exclusive essentially makes the player an unrestricted free agent, even if he wasn’t already.

Applying this to our example, if the Ravens apply the non-exclusive tag to Flacco and another team offers hims a contract, the Ravens have the right to match it or collect compensation. If the Cleveland Browns offer Flacco a $100 million offer sheet and Flacco signs it, the Ravens have the right to either match that $100 million, effectively making that his new contract with the Ravens, or they can let the Browns have him and collect compensation, which is two first round draft picks.

That’s basically all you need to know about the NFL’s confusing franchise tag. Beyond the tough stuff we just went over, know that a team can only tag one player per year and can’t tag the same player more than twice unless he’s a quarterback. Once tagged, both sides have until July 15th to work out a long term deal, as after July 15th the tagged player can only sign a one year contract. The terms can be whatever the player and team agree on but the length is maxed out at one year if signed after July 15th.

There it is, that’s the NFL Franchise Tag for Dummies like me. I don’t know about you, but I could go for a drink right about now.