NFL franchise tags, explained: Updated position values, deadlines & rules to know for 2023
NFL teams are going to have a decision to make come Feb. 21.
Between Feb. 21 and March 7, NFL franchises will have the ability to apply a franchise tag to any of its players to limit the top talents from hitting the open market and become unrestricted free agents. The tag will ensure teams can lock in first priority over its current players, and make sure it has either exclusive negotiating rights or matching rights over its players.
There are a number of players that stand out as possible franchise tag options, starting with Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Additionally, a number of other quarterbacks like Geno Smith and Daniel Jones, as well as running backs Tony Pollard, Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs could find their ability to explore free agency hindered by the application of a team’s tag.
Teams are limited to only one franchise tag per offseason. So the Giants would be limited to either tagging Jones or Barkley should they decide to go that route, and the Cowboys would have to decide between Pollard and tight end Dalton Schultz if Dallas wants to pursue the tag route for either of its star players. And while there are three different types of tags — exclusive, non-exclusive and transition — teams can ONLY decide to use ONE during the offseason.
Prior to 2020, franchise tags weren’t used as often. Between 2015 and 2019, there was an average of just 6.2 total players across the league tagged per season. Since then, NFL teams have averaged 11 franchise tags per offseason, including 15 used in 2020 across the league. That’s nearly half of the teams in the NFL!
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There might be fewer tags issued in 2023, with each position (other than special teams) seeing non-exclusive tags exceed $10 million for the first time. A non-exclusive franchise tag on a running back, for example, would represent 4.5 percent of a team’s total cap space. The same tag on a quarterback would be 14.4 percent.
Sound complicated? Head spinning? The Sporting News is here to explain it all!
What is a franchise tag in the NFL?
Non-exclusive franchise tag
Definition and rules: The non-exclusive franchise tender shall be a one-year NFL player contract for …
— (A), The average of the five largest prior year salaries for players at the position at which the franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior league year, which average shall be calculated by:
- Summing the amounts of the franchise tags for players at that position for the five preceding league years
- Dividing the resulting amount by the sum of the salary caps for the five preceding league years
- Multiplying the resulting percentage by the salary cap for the upcoming league year
— or (B), 120 percent of his prior year salary, whichever is greater.
If the team extends the tender pursuant to this subsection, the player shall be permitted to negotiate a player contract with any club, except that draft choice compensation of two first round draft selections shall be made with respect to such player in the event he signs with the new club.
Meaning: This is by far the most common tag applied to players for a number of reasons. Mainly, teams applying the tag have the ability to match any offer put on the table by another team, but it also costs them less in the case that no other team puts in an offer on the player. The non-exclusive franchise tag cost is determined by 120 percent of the player’s cap number from the previous season or the average of the five largest prior year salaries at the player’s position.
The NFL team that puts the non-exclusive tag on a player can match an offer sheet extended from any other team. Should the team decide to decline to match the offer, the team that tagged the player will receive two first-round picks from the team that signed the player to the team.
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Definition and rules: The exclusive franchise tender shall be a one-year NFL player contract for …
— (A) the average of the five largest salaries in player contracts for that league year as of the end of the restricted free-agent signing period that league year
— or (B) the amount of the required tender under the subsection above, whichever is greater.
Meaning: Since 2012, there have only been four players hit with the exclusive franchise tag: Drew Brees (2012), Von Miller (2016), Kirk Cousins (2017) and Le’Veon Bell (2017). Teams placing the exclusive franchise tag on another are essentially acknowledging that they know a player would have a huge market and won’t run the risk of losing them, while also saying they can’t sign a player to an extension.
If a player is hit with the exclusive franchise tag, they will not hit the open market. Their price tag will be limited to either the average of the five largest salaries in player contracts for that active league year or the amount of the non-exclusive tag only if the non-exclusive number is larger (which rarely, if ever, happens). The only way a player can play the following season for a different team is if he is traded by his current team.
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Definition and rules: Each club shall be permitted to designate one player who would otherwise be an unrestricted free agent as a transition player … during the same designation period as the franchise
player designation period.
Any club that designates a transition player shall receive the rights of first refusal specified in this article notwithstanding the number of his accrued seasons. Any transition player shall be completely free to negotiate and sign a player contract with any club during the period from the first day of the league year following the expiration of his last player contract to July 22, and any club shall be completely free to negotiate and sign a player contract with such player, without penalty or restriction, including, but not limited to, draft choice compensation between clubs of any kind, subject only to the prior club’s right of first refusal.
Any club that designates a transition player shall be deemed on the first day of the league year following the expiration of the player’s last contract to have automatically tendered the player a one-year NFL player contract for …
— (A) the cap percentage average of the ten largest prior year salaries for players at the position
— or (B) 120 percent of his prior year salary, whichever is greater.
The tender may be withdrawn at any time, but if such tender is withdrawn, the player immediately becomes an unrestricted free agent. For purposes of this subsection, the “transition tag” for any league year is the average of the ten largest prior year salaries for players at that position.
Meaning: Another tag that is less not often used, the transition tag operates in a similar fashion to the non-exclusive tag, but with a few catches. The price tag is determined by the cap percentage average of the 10 largest prior year salaries at a player’s position or 120 percent of his previous season’s salary, whichever is higher.
A player on the transition tag can negotiate with other teams like those on the non-exclusive tag and can be extended an offer sheet. However, if the player’s current team can’t match the offer of the other team, that player can sign with the other team, which would not have to provide any form of compensation to his previous team.
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NFL franchise tag deadline 2023
If a team makes the decision to tag a player, they can still sign that player to a long-term extension. However, they would have only until 4 p.m. ET on July 15. At that point, players will be forced to play out the year on the tag. If they choose not to sign the tag, they will be ineligible to play for any other team for the entirety of the season.
How many times can a team franchise tag a player in the NFL?
Teams are limited to using the franchise tag only three times on a player. While it can put on a bind on a player’s future, it also can become quite lucrative if someone is tagged that many times.
A player tagged for a second straight season would be owed 120 percent of their previous season’s salary. A third straight year would net a player at least 144 percent of the previous year’s salary. For example, a quarterback playing on this year’s non-exclusive tag ($32.416 million) would be owed $38,899,200 in 2024 if tagged again. A third tag would be paid $56,014,848 in 2025 if tagged for a third straight season. That player would then hit free agency in 2026.
However, a third straight year could potentially net the player an even loftier salary. It could also be the average of the five largest prior year salaries at the position with the highest average salary, 120 percent of the average of the five largest prior year salaries at the position or the 144 percent increase of the salary.
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NFL franchise tag values for 2023
The value of the franchise tag is based on the average of the top five salaries at a given position over the past five years, and adjusted for the salary cap figure for a given season. This year, every non-special teams position has a non-exclusive franchise tag value above $10 million.
The exclusive tag numbers will not be known until after the restricted free agency period.
|Position||Non-exclusive tag value||Transition tag value|
|Quarterback||$32.416 million||$29.504 million|
|Running back||$10.091 million||$8.429 million|
|Wide receiver||$19.743 million||$17.991 million|
|Tight end||$11.345 million||$9.716 million|
|Offensive line||$18.244 million||$16.66 million|
|Defensive end||$19.727 million||$17.452 million|
|Defensive tackle||$18.937 million||$16.068 million|
|Linebacker||$20.926 million||$17.478 million|
|Cornerback||$18.14 million||$15.791 million|
|Safety||$14.46 million||$11.867 million|
|Kicker/punter||$5.393 million||$4.869 million|
NFL franchise tagged players
Below are the players that have been hit with the franchise tag since 2015.
* – transition tag
** – exclusive franchise tag
*** – tag rescinded
Teams have not applied the franchise tag to any players this offseason.
|Jessie Bates III||S||Bengals|
|Dak Prescott||QB||Cowboys (signed long term)|
|Leonard Williams||DT||Giants (signed long term)|
|Justin Simmons||S||Broncos (signed long term)|
|Yannick Ngakoue||DE||Jaguars (traded to Vikings)|
|Brandon Scherff||G||Washington Football Team|