What is the NFL franchise tag and how does it work?

What is the NFL franchise tag, how does it work, and what are the projected salary cap numbers for the positions in the 2022 season?

When it comes to the start of any new NFL league year, the franchise tag deadline is an important part of the build-up to that new league year. Let’s examine what the franchise tag means, how it works, and the value and deadlines for the tag in 2022.

What is the NFL franchise tag?

The franchise tag is a designation NFL teams can apply to one of their upcoming unrestricted free agents per year. Using the franchise tag allows the team to prevent that player from hitting free agency in the new league year. Only one player can be designated with the franchise tag, and each NFL team must decide between the use of the franchise tag and the transition tag — which has a similar purpose.

How does the NFL franchise tag work?

Using the tag, in essence, buys the NFL team another year of service time from the player it is applied to. If the team and valuable player haven’t agreed to a contract extension, they can use the franchise tag to keep them on the roster the following season.

After placing the tag on a player, teams have a specific window to try and negotiate a long-term contract. The deadline for extending players is usually July following the start of the new league year. If a deal cannot be reached by then, the team must wait until the following offseason.

A prime example of how the franchise tag can work is Shaq Barrett. Ahead of the 2020 league year, the Buccaneers could not agree on a long-term deal with Barrett. Therefore, he played that season on the franchise tag and was a key part of their Super Bowl-winning team. He and the team agreed on a long-term extension the following offseason.

Teams can apply two different types of franchise tags — the exclusive franchise tag and the non-exclusive franchise tag.

What is the difference between an exclusive and non-exclusive franchise tag?

The difference in the tags is exactly what the name says to some extent. The exclusive franchise tag means an NFL player cannot negotiate with another team once the tag has been applied.

In contrast, a player given the non-exclusive franchise tag can negotiate with another team. If that team offers the player a contract, the team that tagged him gets the first right of refusal to match the deal. If the team that applied the tag does not match the deal, the new team would send two first-round draft picks to that team.

Going back to 2020 for our example, Dak Prescott was given the exclusive franchise tag and could not negotiate with other teams. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Chargers gave Hunter Henry the non-exclusive franchise tag. Henry was able to negotiate with other teams, who could decide if they felt he was worth the price of two first-round picks.

The reason for choosing the non-exclusive tag over the exclusive one comes down to cost. The non-exclusive tag carries a cost equivalent to the average of the top five cap hits at the position for the previous five years. The number is then adjusted for the salary cap in the new league year.

The exclusive franchise tag is set as the average of the top five cap hits at the position following that year’s free agency. The cut-off for that determination is usually during April. The exception to that is if a player’s current salary multiplied by 1.2 is higher than the number set by the NFL. The franchise-tagged player would earn the higher of the two amounts.

Can a player refuse the NFL franchise tag?

The franchise tag is not usually popular among players. The tag was introduced to protect smaller-market teams from losing free agents to the bigger-market teams, who could historically pay more. However, that is not so much the case anymore. And players can express concerns about having to play another year before getting to sign long-term.

We have seen franchise-tagged players hold out of training camp and preseason in protest. However, the player will often report to the team either in time for the first game of the season or during the season itself.

In 2018, Le’Veon Bell refused to play on the franchise tag. Bell had already played on the franchise tag in 2017. Thus, he was not happy to be franchised for a second straight season. The Steelers then had the option to give the franchise tag to Bell for a third time in 2019. However, with the potential cost escalating to around $25 million, the Steelers chose not to do so.

The only real option for a player to refuse the franchise tag is to sit out the year with no pay.

How many times can you tag a player?

Each team can franchise tag a single player a maximum of three times. However, that is rarely a concern given the escalating cost of tagging a player multiple times. In the first year, the calculations outlined above are used to calculate the value. These costs are usually high, but not extraordinarily so.

When the second tag is applied, the price is 120% of the previous year’s cap number. A third tag would then increase the cap number by a further 144%. For example, let’s take a player tagged at $20 million in Year 1. The second tag would see the cost jump to $24 million a year. If there is a third tag on the player, his salary in that year would be $34.56 million.

2022 NFL franchise tag deadline and values

What we do know for sure about the franchise tag is that the deadline for teams to apply it is 4 PM ET on March 8. Yet, we will need to wait for the NFL salary cap to be confirmed to know the range of franchise tag thresholds.

The cap has been set at $208,200,000 per Club. Therefore, any numbers calculated are based on that. However, we will still have to wait until April to find out the final value of the non-exclusive tag number for each position. That is because the number can change based on contracts signed this offseason. Here are the franchise tag numbers for 2022, as released by the NFL on March 7.

  • Quarterback
  • Running Back
  • Wide Receiver
  • Tight End
  • Offensive Linemen
  • Defensive Tackle
  • Defensive End
  • Linebacker
  • Cornerback
  • Safety
  • Special Teams

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