There are three types of tags teams can use on a player to keep him from hitting the open market.
Non-exclusive franchise tag: This is the most common tag used by teams. It is a one-year offer to a player for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position for the past five years, or 120% of the player’s previous salary, whichever is greater. A non-exclusive tag allows player to negotiate with other teams. Their original team can either match the offer or elect to receive 2 first-round picks from the team the player signs with. Teams have until July 15th to work out a long-term extension with their franchised player. The Bears are likely to use this tag on Allen Robinson.
Exclusive franchise tag: It is a one-year offer to a player for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position for the current year, or 120% of the player’s previous salary, whichever is greater. In this case, the player is not allowed to negotiate with other teams. Teams have until July 15th to work out a long-term extension with their franchised player. The Cowboys used this tag on Dak Prescott last year and will do it again this offseason.
Projected non-exclusive franchise tag values for 2021, via OverTheCap:
Transition tag: The transition tag is a one-year offer with the value determined by the average of the top-10 salaries at a player’s position. The player is allowed to negotiate with other teams, but his original team can choose to match offer. The team would receive no compensation if it elects not to match the offer. In 2018, the Bears used the transition tag on CB Kyle Fuller. Fuller signed a lucrative offer sheet with the Packers and the Bears decided to match. In 2015, the Dolphins used the transition tag on TE Charles Clay. Clay signed an offer sheet with the Bills, which Miami decided not to match. The Bills got the player and the Dolphins got zero compensation back. Last offseason, the Cardinals used the transition tag on RB Kenyan Drake and he signed the tag and returned to Arizona on a 1-year deal worth over $8M guaranteed. He will be a free agent this offseason.
Unrestricted Free Agent: If you don’t know what this means, well, that’s a problem.
Players who are unrestricted free agents are completely free to sign with any team starting March 17th at 4:00 EST. Teams can officially contact unrestricted free agents starting March 15 during the “legal tampering” period. While it doesn’t become legal until then, teams and agents have been breaking the rule for years and are already talking. You just won’t hear much until March 15th.
Restricted Free Agent: Players who are restricted free agents have an expired contract but have accrued less than three seasons. An accrued season is defined as a player being on a team for at least six regular season games. These players aren’t necessarily “free.”
Their current team will be able to put a tender on them which dictates the value of their next contract and also the compensation (a draft pick) the team would receive if another team decided to match their contract offer.
Teams have four different tender options they can place on their restricted free agent that usually keeps those players from leaving elsewhere.
- First-round tender: Player can negotiate with other teams, but original team has option to match any deal and will receive a first-round pick if they don’t match.
- Second-round tender: Player can negotiate with other teams, but original team has option to match any deal and will receive a second-round pick if they don’t match.
- Original-round tender: Player can negotiate with other teams, but original team has option to match any deal and will receive a pick equal to the round the player was originally selected if they don’t match.
- Right of first refusal: Player can negotiate with other teams, but original team has option to match any deal. The team will not receive any compensation if they don’t match.
You might be wondering why not just give every player the first-round tender? Well, each tender has a different value, as shown below, via OverTheCap:
It wouldn’t necessarily make sense to give a player a first-round tender because a team would be committing too much money for that player. Taysom Hill got the first-round tender last offseason, which shows how much they value him.
Salary Cap: The Salary Cap is the amount of money that teams are allowed to spend on players’ salaries. Each team has the exact same amount of money to spend, so every team is on the same playing field (unlike baseball). The exact salary cap is dictated by the Players Association in the CBA. All sources of revenue, including TV contracts, merchandise sales and ticket sales, are added up and divided among the 32 NFL teams. Due to the COVID pandemic, the cap is going to drop from the $198.2M that it was at last year. The expected number for this year is expected to fall in the $180M range. There are ways to maneuver around the salary cap, but that’s for another day.
Base Salary: A player’s base salary is what he’ll earn every week just for being on the roster.
Guaranteed Money: Guaranteed money consists of every bonus (signing, workout, roster) paid out to the player over the course of the contract. Bonuses are typically spread throughout the life of the contract, but if a player is released, the team must pay him the rest of the bonus due. There’s more that we could talk about when it comes to guaranteed money (guaranteed for injury vs. fully guaranteed), but that’s also for another day. I did talk about it a little when the Dolphins cut Kyle Van Noy (watch video HERE)
Dead Money: Usually when a player is cut or traded, you’ll hear the term “dead money.” Dead money is the guaranteed money left on a player’s contract at the time he’s let go. That money will count against a team’s cap that next year. If a player is cut after June 1, the dead money is split over the next two seasons. Too much dead money usually kills a team’s chances to compete. The Eagles took on a $33.8M dead money charge when they agreed to trade Carson Wentz. That’s the largest dead money charge in league history.
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