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What is a franchise tag in the NFL? Explanation and examples

Let’s begin with understanding what a franchise player is and how the franchise tag works. We’ll answer these questions and more in this article.

Lamar Jackson is #8 of the Baltimore Ravens.

With the NFL’s offseason now underway, you’ve probably heard the phrase “franchise player” being tossed around all over. If you’re unsure what it means and how franchise tags work, fear not; we’ve got you covered with a breakdown of how it operates.

An Introduction to the Franchise Tag

It’s been over 30 years since the NFL introduced the franchise tag system in 1993. Let’s make this simple if you’re unsure what that means. In principle, the end goal here is to allow NFL owners to secure the services of one player on a lucrative one-year contract. Said contract is referred to as a ‘franchise Inay; in the time that has passed since its inception, the framework of it has changed. Yet, still remains a mechanism that is only used on special occasions and is only utilized by less than half of the league’s teams.

NFL Structures 101: The franchise tag?

In short, the franchise tag is a designation that allows NFL teams to select a single player who is set to become an unrestricted free agent to guarantee an additional year under contract, assuming specific conditions are met. To be clear, each team in the league is allocated one franchise tag per season, which in turn can be used as either an exclusive or non-exclusive tag. If you’re wondering what the difference between the two is, take a look below:

  • Exclusive: Teams are required to offer the selected player a one-year contract with a value that is no less than the average of the top-five salaries at that player’s position, based on April of the current year, or 120% of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater.
  • Non-exclusive: Once a player has been selected, teams must offer a one-year contract no less than the average of the top-five cap hits of that player’s positions or 120% of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater.

What’s the difference between exclusive and non-exclusive tags?

There are two major differences between an exclusive and non-exclusive franchise tag. Firstly, you will have noticed the incorporation of salary versus cap hit and a difference in who holds the upper hand in negotiations. Though a cap hit is, in fact, similar to the salary, it’s important to note that it is also related to all of the expenses that affect a team’s total salary cap, e.g., signing bonuses.

On top of that, both tags have very different bargaining rights and guaranteed assets for both the player and the team. To be clear, an exclusive tag gives the team exclusive negotiating rights. That means if a player rejects the team’s offer, he can’t sign with another team for the remainder of the season. As for the non-exclusive tag, you can probably guess that the player in question is afforded that right if they reject an offer and receive another from a different team. However, it is important to note that their current offer can still match the new one. Even more important is that if they choose not to match the offer, they are entitled to receive two first-round Draft picks in exchange.

Lamar Jackson: A franchise player in the making

In the 2023 offseason, there was most definitely one name that came to the attention of all football fans when it came to the franchise tag issue: the Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Indeed, by all accounts, the Ravens were widely expected to place the franchise tag on Jackson. Remember that contract negotiations between the two parties have been taking their sweet time and the deadline by which teams must tag a player that last season fell on March 7th.

Though some reports have indicated that the Ravens have considered trading Jackson, at 26 years old, he was already a former league MVP, like he was again this season, so the signal-caller was a prime candidate to be tagged and could likely receive one in each of his next three seasons. The reports proved accurate; the Ravens signed him, and accepting the tag would see Jackson receiving a salary of $45 million for the upcoming seasons.


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