While only the raw parameters of Cam Newton’s free agency contract with the New England Patriots have been reported so far — the deal will run for one year and is valued at a maximum of $7.5 million — it seems as if one important provision will not be included as part of the pact: if a recent report by CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora is to be believed, the language in Newton’s contract will not prohibit the Patriots from using the franchise tag on him next offseason.
If the report turns out to be accurate, this would come as a minor surprise — one that could create an interesting dynamic for both parties next year. For one, if they choose, the Patriots could simply apply the tag to prevent the quarterback from entering unrestricted free agency next offseason. Such a move could happen if a) Newton earns the starting quarterback role, and b) subsequently proves himself a capable option in Josh McDaniels’ offensive system worthy of being kept longer-term.
Simultaneously, the franchise tag number for the 31-year-old could be much more reasonable next year. The exact calculation of the respective tag numbers by the NFL is a complicated matter that was laid out earlier this year by former sports agent Joel Corry, who is now working as an analyst for CBS:
Prior to the 2011 CBA, non-exclusive franchise tags had been an average of the five largest salaries in the prior year at a player’s position or 120 percent of the prior year’s salary of the player, whichever was greater. [...]
The 120 percent and five largest salaries provisions remain intact, but the formula component is now calculated over a five year period that’s tied to a percentage of the overall salary cap. More specifically, the number for each position is determined by taking the sum of the non-exclusive franchise tags as determined by the original methodology for the previous five seasons and dividing by the sum of the actual NFL salary cap amount for the previous five seasons. The resulting percentage, which is known as the Cap Percentage Average in the CBA, is then multiplied by the actual salary cap for the upcoming league year.
Long story short, if the salary cap decreases in 2021 compared to this year’s $198.2 million — something that could happen due to the league’s projected revenue loss in light of the Coronavirus pandemic — the same could happen to the franchise tag numbers for quarterbacks. The tags are all calculated as a percentage of the cap, after all. This year’s tag of $26.8 million, for example, was set at roughly 13.5 percent of the salary cap number that was announced to the NFL’s 32 franchises in March.
While it remains to be seen how the league’s salary cap projections develop and what this means for the franchise tag both in terms of total value and percentage of the cap, the Patriots and Newton agreeing to exclude a stipulation from the deal barring them from applying the tag is interesting. At the very least, this could give the organization an option to go year-to-year with the quarterback based on how the marriage works out over the next few weeks and months.
Newton, meanwhile, did give up some freedom as part of a team-friendly deal that could get the former league MVP back on the map after two injury-riddled campaigns. A lot can change between now and next March, but for the time being it seems as if both parties are using 2020 as an evaluation period and the possible foundation for a longer-term cooperation.