What Is a Franchise Tag in Football?

Franchise Tag


The NFL offseason is when a team, players, and agents begin contract negotiations. Agents want the most money possible for the players they represent based on performance on the field.

On the flip side, owners must do what’s best for them versus their salary cap. At times, negotiations between the sides fail to result in a deal before a deadline, resulting in the team franchise tagging a player.

What exactly does a franchise tag mean? Are there rules for designating a franchise tag on a player? Can you tag more than one player? Let’s examine these questions and more.

What Exactly Is The Franchise Tag In The NFL?

A franchise tag happens when a team prevents a free agent from entering the open market during the offseason by giving him a guaranteed contract for one season. This can be used only one time each season. The idea seems easy, but it’s more complex because a team can keep an NFL player in three ways.

The three types of franchise tags are exclusive, non-exclusive, and transition. Each of these keeps the player for a single season and has advantages and disadvantages for the player and the organization. Let’s take a look to get a better understanding of each type of franchise tag.

Exclusive Franchise Tag, Non-Exclusive Franchise, and Transition Tag Explanation

Players given the exclusive franchise tag can only negotiate with their original team. Players with a non-exclusive tag can talk with any other team he likes, but the original team can make the offer during the offseason. Should a player accept an offer from another team, the original team gets compensation in the form of two first-round draft picks.

One of the differences between the exclusive and non-exclusive franchise tag deals with money. For the exclusive franchise tag, the player will receive the average salary of the top five players in the league at that position. 

For the non-exclusive tag, add the salary cap of the last five years and divide that by the sum of the previous five year’s salaries by position. Take that result and multiply it against the current salary cap.

Those with the transition tag get the average of the top 10 salaries at the position for a single season. This is the most uncommon tag type, and if used, the team doesn’t get any compensation should the player sign elsewhere.

How Long Can the Organization and Player Negotiate a Franchise Deal?

A team can tag a player a few months before training camp. From then through the summer, the two sides will wheel and deal in a chess match, trying to agree. The franchise player can take the one-year contract if a deal isn’t reached.

Once they do so, they are forbidden to negotiate with any other team during that season. Since the contract is guaranteed, the player with the franchise tag stays with the team for another year.

Does the Franchise Tag Benefit the Player or The Organization More?

Sometimes, a player benefits more, the team benefits more, and sometimes neither benefits from the franchise tag. It’s obvious to a team that players want to test the free agent market to get paid a higher salary. The team will work with the player’s agent to sign the player to a contract extension. If a deal isn’t reached, this is where the franchise tag can come into play. The tag benefits teams who have salary cap issues and cannot commit to a long-term extension.

One benefit for a player is that it’s a guaranteed contract for the player, albeit for a single season. This isn’t also the case for NFL players. If a player is cut from a team, he will lose some money until he signs with another team. 

While it might seem unorthodox and not very stable, accepting a franchise tag year after year enables players a guaranteed place to play yearly.

How Many Different Times Can a Tagged Player be Franchised?

A player can be franchised for a maximum of three consecutive years by a single team. It’s worth noting that each time a player is franchised, his salary increases. The basis is that in the first year, the player will earn 100 percent of the guaranteed money for the average of the top five players in their position.

By the second year, that increases to 120 percent of the previous year’s salary or the position average of the top five salaries. In the third year, the team must pay either the average salaries of the top five at that position or 144 percent of the previous year’s salary.

Can a Player Refuse the Franchise Tag?

Players have the right to refuse the franchise tag. A notable example was in 2018 when the Steelers offered running back Le’Veon Bell a contract for $14.5 million over a single season.

Bell sat out the season after refusing the offer. He signed over $50 million with the Jets the following year, with $33 million guaranteed. As it turned out, Belle was a complete bust and was gone from the Jets after less than two years. 

The gamble of the Jets didn’t pay off, and Belle didn’t get the entire amount he signed for. It must be noted that most traditional NFL contracts don’t have guaranteed money, which is why Belle lost out on much after underperforming with the Jets.

Conclusion – Franchise Tag

A franchise tag happens when an NFL team, a player on the team, and an agent cannot work out a contract deal. Players offered the franchise tag will often accept it since it is guaranteed money for a single season.

Still, the player cannot negotiate with any other team until after the season. The franchise tag can sometimes benefit both parties, whereas sometimes it benefits one or the other.