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

What’s a franchise player and what is the franchise tag that’s been allocated? We’ve got the answers to these questions and more, so let’s get into it.

Lamar Jackson es uno de los pocos jugadores que no cuenta con un agente como representante.
Baltimore SunGetty

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

An Introduction to the Franchise Tag

It’s now been 30 years since the NFL introduced the franchise tag system back in 1993. If you’re not sure what that means, let’s make this simple. 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 tag.’ Needless to say, in the time that has passed since its inception, the framework of it has changed. Yet, it still remains a mechanism which is only used on special occasions and is indeed, only utilized by less than half of the league’s teams.

NFL structures 101: The franchise tag?

In short form, the franchise tag is a designation that allows NFL teams to select a single player who is set to become an unrestricted free agent, with the purpose of guaranteeing 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 that there is the incorporation of salary versus cap hit, as well as 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 team. To be clear, an exclusive tag gives the team exclusive negotiating rights. What that means, is that if a player decides to reject the team’s offer, he can’t sign with another team for remainder of the season. As for the non-exclusive tag, you can probably guess that the player in question is afforded that right in the event that they reject an offer and receive another from a different team. It is important to note, however, that their current team is still afforded the opportunity to match the new offer. Even more important, is the fact 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 is most definitely one name that has come to the attention of all football fans, when it comes to the franchise tag issue and that’s the Baltimore Ravens quarterback, Lamar Jackson. Indeed, by all accounts the Ravens are now widely expected to place the franchise tag on Jackson if they can’t come to an agreement within the next few weeks. Keep in mind, that contract negotiations between the two parties have been taking their sweet time and the deadline by which teams must tag a player, falls on March 7th.

Though some reports, have indicated that the Ravens may yet trade Jackson, at 26-years-old and already a former league MVP, the signal caller is a prime candidate to be tagged and could likely receive one in each of his next three seasons. Assuming reports prove to be true, the tag would see Jackson receiving a salary of $45 million for the coming season.


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