What Is the NFL Franchise Tag and How Does It Work? (Updated 2023)

What Is the NFL Franchise Tag and How Does It Work? (Updated 2023)

With the NFL regular season over, the focus is starting to shift toward the offseason. One of the early parts of the offseason is the franchise tag deadline when we find out whether players will reach free agency or not. Let’s examine what is meant by the franchise tag, how it works, as well as the tag value and deadline for 2023.

What Is the NFL Franchise Tag?

The franchise tag is a tool that NFL teams can use to ensure they retain an upcoming unrestricted free agent each season. Teams do not have to use the franchise tag, and they are only allowed to designate one player with the franchise tag per season. They must also decide whether to utilize the franchise or transition tag — which serves a similar purpose.

How Does the NFL Franchise Tag Work?

By utilizing the tag, teams give themselves an extra year of service time from whichever player they assign it to. Often, the franchise tag is used in the event that the team has not been able to agree to a contract extension with a player they are looking to retain.

Once teams apply the tag, they then have a short window with which to agree to a contract extension. The deadline for that is usually in July, but once it passes, teams and players cannot continue negotiations until the following offseason.

In the 2022 NFL offseason, eight NFL players were designated with the franchise tag, with a range of outcomes. David Njoku, Chris Godwin, and Cam Robinson signed long-term deals. Meanwhile, Davante Adams was traded from the Green Bay Packers to the Las Vegas Raiders, where he then signed a long-term contract. In contrast, Orlando Brown, Jessie Bates III, Mike Gesicki, and Dalton Schultz played on the franchise tag in 2022 and are now pending free agents for 2023.

What Is the Difference Between an Exclusive and Non-Exclusive Franchise Tag?

The most common type of franchise tag is the non-exclusive one, which means that NFL players can still negotiate with other teams following the application of the tag. Meanwhile, the exclusive franchise tag prevents players from negotiating with other teams.

If the negotiations on a non-exclusive tag lead to a contract offer, then the team applying the franchise tag would have a first right of refusal in terms of matching the offer. If the team applying the tag declines to match the offer sheet, the team proposing the offer would send two first-round NFL draft picks in return for signing the player.

In the 2020 offseason, 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 benefit of applying the non-exclusive franchise tag is that it comes at a slightly lower cost than the exclusive tag. The cost of the non-exclusive tag is calculated by averaging the top five cap hits at the position for the previous five years. That number is then adjusted proportionally to the salary cap for the upcoming season.

Meanwhile, the cost of the exclusive franchise tag is actually not fully known when it is applied. Following that year’s free agency, the cost of the exclusive franchise tag is calculated as the average of the top five cap numbers at the position when free agency is over. The value is usually finalized in mid-April.

There are times when the two calculations above are not used. If the calculated franchise tag value is lower than 120% of the player’s previous year’s salary, then the 120% number is used instead. That is the case for either the exclusive or non-exclusive franchise tag.

Can a Player Refuse the NFL Franchise Tag?

Officially, no, players cannot refuse the NFL franchise tag. There are options to try and force the hand of their team, but there is no way to reject the tag and head to free agency. We have seen some players hold out of training camp and preseason. Usually, they will report to the team ahead of the first game of the season.

The most extreme holdout we have seen from a franchise-tagged player was Le’Veon Bell in 2018. The Pittsburgh Steelers tagged Bell for a second straight season. He refused to report to the team and sat out the whole year, which meant he did not receive any salary for the season.

It is worth noting that if a player does sit out the year, the team can tag them again the following year, but it will escalate in cost. Sitting out a year does not mean the NFL team can keep them at the same cost the following season.

How Many Times Can NFL Teams Tag a Player?

The maximum number of times a tag can be applied is three times. It is not usually a concern because of the way the cost escalates when a player is tagged multiple times. A second-straight franchise tag will see a player’s salary automatically increase by 20%. The exception to that would be if the salary cap value for the position increased by more than 20%, in which case, the higher value would be taken.

A third tag would see the price rise even higher. With the third tag, the player’s salary jumps 44% from the previous year. For example, a player tagged at $30 million in the first year would be valued at $36 million in Year 2. A third tag would see that value rise by more than $15 million to a total of $51.84 million.

2023 NFL Franchise Tag Deadline and Values

The deadline to apply the franchise tag is 4 p.m. ET on March 7. The window opens on Feb. 21 and runs through the next 15 days. In terms of the values, we will not know them for sure until the NFL sets the salary cap for the 2023 season.

The current projection for the upcoming salary cap is $225 million, but that will not be confirmed until closer to the season. Based on that number, here are the projected franchise tag numbers from Over The Cap.

  • Quarterback
    $32.45 million
  • Running Back
    $10.10 million
  • Wide Receiver
    $19.76 million
  • Tight End
    $11.36 million
  • Offensive Linemen
    $18.26 million
  • Defensive Tackle
    $18.95 million
  • Defensive End
    $19.74 million
  • Linebacker
    $20.95 million
  • Cornerback
    $18.16 million
  • Safety
    $14.47 million
  • Special Teams
    $5.40 million