Ladies and gentlemen, you can start your engines — but they’ll have a little time to warm up.
Today marks the opening of the franchise and transition tag window, which means we’re in the final stages as teams prepare for the new league year and the start of free agency on March 17.
The tag window runs from today, Feb. 23, through March 9.
Teams can start placing the franchise or transition tag tenders on players beginning today and can still work out a long-term deal with the players through mid-July. If an extension isn’t worked out by then, the player will play the 2021 season under the one-year tender.
Clubs have three different options when deciding to tag a player: 1) Non-exclusive franchise tag; 2) Exclusive franchise tag; 3) Transition tag.
Non-exclusive franchise tag: This is the most commonly used tag. Colloquially, when most refer to the “franchise tag,” they are generally talking about the non-exclusive version. This is a one-year tender of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position over the last five years, or 120 percent of his previous salary, whichever is greater. The player can negotiate with other teams. The player’s current team has the right to match any offer or receive two first-round draft picks as compensation if he signs with another organization.
Exclusive franchise tag: A one-year tender offer of 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 player cannot negotiate with another team. The rise in pay scale (current average salary versus averaging of the previous five years) means only a select few get this tag. Usually, players for whom teams would gladly give up two first-round picks receive this version of the tag — generally, quarterbacks like Dak Prescott last season get the exclusive.
Transition tag: The transition designation is a one-year tender offer for the average of the top 10 salaries at the position — as opposed to top five for the franchise tag. It guarantees the original club the right of first refusal to match any offer the player might receive from another club. The tagging team is awarded no compensation if it chooses not to match a deal. The transition tag is generally a placeholder giving the club the ability to match any contract the player negotiations with another team.
Each team can only use one franchise or transition tag each year. A rescinded tender counts as a tag — you’ll remember that the Carolina Panthers famously rescinded Josh Norman’s tag back in 2016. A player can be tagged up to three times by his team, with a jump in pay each occurrence — usually by the third tag, the percentage of the salary cap taken up at that time makes it prohibitive.
Franchise tag figures for each position are based on the salary cap for the 2021 season. Since the cap is not officially set, teams are currently working off estimates. We know the salary cap won’t be lower than $180 million.
While today marks the start of the franchise tag window, don’t expect a bevy of teams to use their option just yet. Clubs will continue to try to work on long-term extensions until the window closes on March 9. The tags are usually implemented after it’s clear sides need more time to negotiate.
Of the candidates to get the tag, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the Dallas Cowboys are expected to use a second straight tag on Prescott if no long-term deal is done. Likewise, Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to tag receiver Chris Godwin — they used the tag on Shaquil Barrett last year. Rapoport also added that Lions receiver Kenny Golladay is a strong candidate to get tagged.
The window is open. The flurry of news likely won’t fly through it until closer to the March 9 deadline.