Why do NFL Players Love to Hate the Franchise Tag?

The NFL is cyclical. Each year the same issues arise over and over again…including the franchise tag.

franchise tagThe franchise tag is a designation used by teams to navigate the salary cap. The tag isn’t particularly well-liked by players.

The contractual devices allow teams to keep unrestricted free agents with them for an additional year, which can prove useful for managers and coaches trying to work around salary cap restrictions and other financial roadblocks on the path to building a competitive team. Clubs are only allowed to tag one player per year. The designation provides the tagged individual with a guaranteed contract with a salary similar to the pay of the top five players in the league at the same position. Players offered the franchise tender have until July 15 to work out long-term deals with their teams.

The sort of salaries that a franchise tag guarantees 

For example, a franchise tag placed on New York Giants quarterback, Eli Manning – who is negotiating with his team right now, but may not be tagged due to situations with other players – would guarantee him a contract with a salary range similar to those earned by peers such as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. The Washington Post calculated the probable salaries for a number of positions when a player receives the franchise tag.

  • Cornerbacks: $13.1 million
  • Defensive ends: $14.8 million
  • Defensive tackles: $11.2 million
  • Kickers and punters: $4.1 million
  • Linebackers: $13.2 million
  • Offensive lineman: $12.9 million
  • Quarterbacks: $18.5 million
  • Running backs: $10.9 million
  • Safeties: $9.6 million
  • Tight ends: $8.3 million
  • Wide receivers: $12.8 million

Why don’t players appreciate being offered a franchise tender? 

However, players typically don’t take kindly to the franchise tag. USA Today’s For The Win blog noted that the franchise tag is often despised because players don’t believe that the resultant contracts pay them what they deserve. When Aaron Rodgers signed his latest contract, worth $110 million, in 2013, it made him the highest-paid player in the NFL with an average annual salary of $22 million, according to Spotrac. That’s nearly $4 million higher than what a quarterback who signed a franchise tender this offseason would earn. Additionally, franchise tags don’t offer players much long-term security. The contracts that come with them are only guaranteed for a year, after which the tagged individual will find himself once again without an agreement between him and his team.

The tag has been in use since 1993, the Washington Post reported. While its popularity has waned in recent years, teams still use it when they find themselves backed into a corner during negotiations. For example, New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was one of six players offered a franchise tag this season, though he has yet to sign his due to the highly unusual situation that came out of a fireworks incident on July 4. The uncertainty could affect the team’s decision to offer Manning a franchise tender or not.

Other players offered franchise tenders this offseason include Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant and Denver Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas, according to ESPN. These players were all able to beat the July 15 deadline to work out a long-term agreement.

When Bryant was franchised earlier in the offseason, he was not pleased, and even threatened to skip regular season games if he couldn’t work out a long-term contract with his team, according to CBS. When a fan tweeted his appreciation for Bryant’s dedication to his team – prior to the Cowboys offering him a franchise tender – he responded “I wish they felt the same way but it’s cool.”

The various kinds of franchise tags

The Washington Post explained that there are exclusive and non-exclusive franchise tags. The former disallows the player from negotiating with any other teams. The latter grants him permission to work out a deal with another organization. If one is reached, and he signs with the new team, then his former team would receive two first-round draft picks.

There is also the less common transition tag, according to the news outlet. This guarantees a contract with a salary that is equal to the average of the top 10 salaries at the player’s position or 120 percent of the value of his 2014 salary – whichever amount is higher. Players with a transition tag are allowed to negotiate with other teams, and if they reach a deal their former club does not receive any draft picks.

While players aren’t always the biggest fans of franchise tags, they can allow them and their teams to push contract negotiations to the following offseason, when the cap situation may be more favorable to working out a long-term contract that pays the individual what he and his club believe he deserves.

If you’re concerned about being offered a franchise tender, contact an attorney with knowledge of sports law or NFL agent who can help you work out a satisfactory deal.

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Anthony R. Caruso is a business transactional attorney in New York and New Jersey with experience in structuring, negotiation and completion of legal deals involving business, entrepreneurs, athletes and performers.

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