Tag, you're it.
Tuesday, February 19, marks the first day NFL clubs can designate the franchise or transition tag. The two-week window closes at 4 p.m. ET on March 5.
What does "getting slapped with the franchise tag" actually mean?
NFL clubs have three different tagging options to keep players potentially under team control on a one-year tender in the absence of a long-term deal: 1) Non-exclusive franchise tag; 2) Exclusive franchise tag; 3) Transition tag.
Non-exclusive franchise tag: This is the most commonly used tag. When commentators colloquially refer to the "franchise tag" they are generally talking about the non-exclusive version. This is a one-year tender offer for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player's position over the last five years, or 120 percent of his previous salary, whichever is greater. The player can negotiate with other teams. The player's current team has the right to match any offer, or receive two first-round draft picks as compensation if he signs with another organization.
Exclusive franchise tag: A one-year tender 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 percent of his previous salary, whichever is greater. The player cannot negotiate with another team. The bump in pay scale (current average salary versus averaging of the previous five years) means only the very best receive this tag -- players for whom teams would gladly give up two first-round picks to sign. Generally, QBs are the most likely to receive an exclusive tag, but the Pittsburgh Steelersused it on running back Le'Veon Bell last year.
Transition tag: The transition tag is generally a half-measure utilized to give an organization the option to match a contract. The transition designation is a one-year tender offer for an amount that is the average of the top 10 salaries at the position -- as opposed to top five for the franchise tag. It guarantees the original club the right of first refusal to match any offer the player might receive from another club. The tagging team is awarded no compensation if it chooses not to match a deal. Last year, the Chicago Bears placed the transition tag on corner Kyle Fuller, then matched the contract offer from the Green Bay Packers.
Tagged players have until 4 p.m. ET on July 15 to negotiate a multiyear contract with the team. After July 15, the player may sign only a one-year contract with his club for the 2019 season, and the deal cannot be extended until after the team's last regular-season game.
Players may sign the tender at any point after officially being tagged. Until the tender is inked, the team can rescind the franchise or transition tag. Once the sheet is signed, the player's salary is guaranteed for that season. If a player does not sign the tender, they remain without a contract, and therefore are not subject to fine schedules for skipping offseason workouts (as we saw with Bell last year). A player who has not signed the tender can also not be traded.
Each team can only use one tag each year -- they can't designate both a franchise and transition player. A rescinded tender counts as a tag, meaning a team can't designate one player, rescind it, and use a new tag on another player in the same year. A player can be tagged up to three times by his team, with a jump in pay each occurrence.
Franchise and transition tag figures for each position are based on the salary cap for the 2019 season. In December, the NFL announced the salary cap projections for 2019 are in the range of $187 million to $191.1 million -- another sizable expected increase over the 2018 cap of $177.2 million per club. The official tag figures will we firmed when the final salary cap figure is announced.