Once used as a tool to reduce free agent player movement from small-markets to big ones, the franchise tag is now use more as an extension of the bargaining period for key players who would otherwise be unrestricted free agents.
Generally speaking, the franchise tag is a one-year, fully guaranteed contract offer which keeps a player from becoming an unrestricted free agent. The salary for a player given the franchise tag is based on the five-year average cap percentage for the tag at each position. Meaning, the franchise tag for a quarterback and the one for a defensive end are going to be two very different, very distinct numbers. That goes for each of the positions on the gridiron.
HOWEVER, that’s just the beginning. The franchise tag can take shape in three different forms, but only one can be used per offseason.
The two-week period in which teams can designate franchise players begins Tuesday at 3 p.m. and goes through March 6. Let’s explore the three different types of tags before diving into the numbers.
EXCLUSIVE FRANCHISE TAG
A team that puts the exclusive franchise tag on a player must offer him a one-year contract for (at least) the average of the top-five salaries at his position or 120 percent more than the player’s salary from the previous year, whichever number is greater. Players who are given the exclusive franchise tag cannot negotiate with other teams in the offseason.
It’s the priciest way to go about keeping a player on your team, but it’s the most effective way to ensure at least one more year of a player you’d rather not lose to free agency.
NON-EXCLUSIVE FRANCHISE TAG
The alternative to the most commonly used tag is the non-exclusive franchise tag. Teams handing out the non-exclusive tag must offer the player a one-year deal for (at least) the average of the top-five cap hits (which is made up of a player’s salary and bonuses due) at the player’s position for the last five years or 120 percent more than the player’s salary from the previous season, whichever total is greater.
Here’s the kicker: the non-exclusive franchise tag doesn’t ensure a player’s return. Players who receive the non-exclusive tag can negotiate contracts with other teams. If a player under the non-exclusive tag signs elsewhere, his previous team will be rewarded two first-round picks.
If a team chooses to use the sparsely used transition tag, it must offer the player (at least) the average of the top-10 salaries at their position for the previous year or 120 percent more than the player’s salary from the previous season, whichever number is greater. Players who receive the transition tag can negotiate with other teams, but their previous team receivers a right of first refusal and the opportunity to match the offer within seven days.
Now that we have a better idea of what the franchise tag is and what it does, let’s look at OverTheCap.com’s projected franchise tag numbers:
- Quarterback: $23,090,000
- Running back: $11,687,000
- Wide receiver: $16,228,000
- Tight End: $10,360,000
- Offensive lineman: $14,538,000
- Defensive end: $17,521,000
- Defensive tackle: $14,529,000
- Linebacker: $15,469,000
- Cornerback: $14,877,000
- Safety: $11,081,000
- Kicker/punter: $5,056,000
The number that most likely stands out to Bears fans is the $14.877 million for cornerbacks, especially with Kyle Fuller set to hit the free agent market.
Look no further than what the two biggest deals handed out to cornerbacks last offseason if you’re curious to know what a potential long-term deal for Fuller might look like. Stephon Gilmore’s contract with the Patriots included $40 million in guaranteed salary and has an annual contract value of $13 million. A.J. Bouye’s free agent contract with the Jaguars featured $26 million in guarantees and has an annual value of $13.5 million. And to think, he turned down more money from the Bears last offseason.
If the Bears and Fuller are far apart when it comes to salary demands, using the franchise tag would make sense. Using the exclusive (or even non-exclusive) tag would essentially give Fuller a one-year “prove-it” deal, albeit at a high price. But considering Fuller’s inconsistent play and injury concerns in previous years, a one-time use of the franchise tag would limit the team’s long-term risk while also rewarding the player with a one-year financial guarantee of nearly $15 million – or more than $13 million more than he earned as a base salary in 2017.
We’ll have more on the Bears’ rumored intentions with Kyle Fuller later on. Stay tuned.