One year ago, the New England Patriots had one of their marquee players on the verge of hitting the open market. To prevent All-Pro kicker Stephen Gostkowski from becoming an unrestricted free agent, the team placed the franchise tag on him. This move bought the club and the player more time to come to reach a common contractual ground; something that happened in July when Gostkowski signed a 4-year contract worth $17.2 million.
Applying the franchise tag worked out for the Patriots and the player, who was now the highest paid kicker in the NFL. Looking to 2016, New England will likely not use the tag as no star players are about to become unrestricted free agents. Still, the franchise tag is interesting for the Patriots this year as all three of their divisional rivals have used it.
Buffalo Bills: OT Cordy Glenn
The Bills have chosen to place the franchise tag on their starting left tackle. Glenn, who was a second-round draft pick in 2012, has been a starter from day one and has become one of the better young tackles in the league as well as Buffalo's most consistent offensive player.
The 26-year old was tagged with the non-exclusive tag, which means that he will have a 2016 salary cap hit of $13.706 million. Because the tag is non-exclusive, the offensive tackle can still negotiate with other teams. The Bills, however, would have five days to match each potential offer or else they receive two first round draft picks.
Miami Dolphins: DE Olivier Vernon
The Dolphins have used the transition tag on 25-year old defensive end Olivier Vernon. The former 2012 third round draft choice is one of Miami's best players and has led the team in sacks last season with 7.5.
Because the transition tag has been placed on him, Vernon's 2016 cap hit is $12.73 million; about $3 million less when compared to the franchise tag number for his position. Of course, the difference between the two is not only monetary: while the Dolphins also have five days to match a possible offer from another team, the team will not receive compensation if Vernon decides to leave.
New York Jets: DT Muhammad Wilkerson
Had he hit unrestricted free agency, Wilkerson would have been one of the most sought after players on the open market. The 26-year old defensive tackle, who was drafted in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, has arguably become the Jets best defender and is one of the best players at his position.
Like Cordy Glenn, Wilkerson has received the non-exclusive franchise tag (the most commonly used form of the tag). As a result, he is on New York's books with a $15.7 million cap hit. While the Jets hold his rights for another year, Wilkerson is able to negotiate with other teams. Like the Bills, the Jets have five days to match an offer. If they do not, the team receives two first round picks.
To lower a player's salary cap hit due to the tag, the team has to sign him to a contract by July 15. If this happens, the 2016 cap hit is changed to the one contractually agreed upon. If not, the player is on the books with his franchise number as he plays the year under the 1-year tag. After the year, he is once again headed to unrestricted free agency.
The Patriots' three AFC East rivals were not the only conference powerhouses to use the franchise tag. The Denver Broncos used the exclusive franchise tag on outside linebacker Von Miller (meaning he can't negotiate with other teams; $14.1 million cap hit), the Kansas City Chiefs safety tagged Eric Berry (non-exclusive; $10.8 million) and the Baltimore Ravens used the tag on kicker Justin Tucker (non-exclusive; $4.57 million).
Before each cap hit becomes official, though, the player has to sign his team's offer sheet – until he does, he won't be eligible to play or negotiate with other teams.