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NFL franchise tag window, explained: How it works, positional values, candidates, and more

The window opens on Tuesday.

NFL: OCT 09 Lions at Patriots Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Free agency will not begin until 4 p.m. on Mar. 15, but one of the first major dates on the NFL’s 2023 offseason calendar has already arrived. Starting today, teams can use the franchise tag to keep pending free agents from entering the open market.

The different kinds of franchise tags and their usage will be mentioned quite a bit over the next three weeks and leading into the new league year. What exactly does it all mean, however? And how do the franchise and transition tags work?

Let’s find out.

What is the franchise tag?

In basic terms, the franchise tag can be explained as follows: it is a fully guaranteed one-year contract teams use to keep unrestricted free agents from hitting the open market. Each organization can only use the tag once per offseason, although most opt against employing it altogether.

Ideally, the use of the tag buys a club more time to reach a long-term contract with its franchise player. However, theory and practice tend to differ on occasion.

From a player perspective, after all, the tag offers limited long-term security despite being a guaranteed contract. This leads to players either not signing it and skipping parts of offseason workouts, training camp or even the regular season.

Meanwhile, teams shy away from using the tag because of the massive salary cap hit associated with it.

The current CBA allows for each team to use the franchise or transition tag only once. Even though teams can rescind it before the aforementioned mid-July deadline, every team has only one shot at naming a franchise player.

When is the franchise tag window?

As specified in Article 10 of the NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement, the franchise tag window opens exactly 22 days before the start of the new league year. It will close again two weeks later:

The period for Clubs to designate Franchise Players will begin on the twenty-second day preceding the first day of the new League Year and will end at 4:00 pm New York time on the eighth day preceding the first day of the new League Year.

For this year, this means the window will remain open from Feb. 21 until Mar. 7 at 3:59 p.m. ET. Any free agent-to-be not tagged with either the franchise or transition tag by that point will remain scheduled to enter the open market once the new league year begins on Mar. 15 at 4 p.m. ETT

The closing of the window on Mar. 7 is only one part of the full franchise schedule. After employing the tag, after all, a team has until mid-July to reach a contract extension with its franchise player or else said player spends the upcoming season under the franchise tag and appropriate salary cap hit:

Any Club designating a Franchise Player shall have until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on July 15 of the League Year (or, if July 15 falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the first Monday thereafter) for which the designation takes effect to sign the player to a multiyear contract or extension. After that date, the player may sign only a one-year Player Contract with his Prior Club for that season, and such Player Contract may not be extended until after the Club’s last regular season game of that League Year.

What types of tags are there?

The NFL differentiates between three different types of tags: the non-exclusive franchise tag, the exclusive franchise tag, and the transition tag.

Non-exclusive franchise tag: The non-exclusive franchise tag is the most commonly used method to keep unrestricted free agents from hitting the market. The one-year tender offer pays a player the average of the top five salaries at the respective position over the last five years, or 120 percent of his previous salary — depending on whichever is greater. In the meantime, the player can negotiate with other teams but the club applying the tag has the right to match any offer or receive two first-round draft picks as compensation in case the player leaves.

Exclusive franchise tag: The exclusive franchise tag, as the name indicates, prohibits other teams from negotiating with the tagged player. However, it also carries a higher financial burden with it: the one-year tender sheet is worth the average of the top five salaries of the player’s position for the current year, or 120 percent of his previous salary. The one-year basis as opposed to the five years used with the non-exclusive tag means that the exclusive one is more expensive.

Transition tag: The third form of the tag also functions as a one-year fully-guaranteed contract, but still works a bit differently. On the one hand, it “only” pays a player the average of the top 10 salaries at the position over the last season and is therefore cheaper than the two franchise tags. On the other hand, however, it only guarantees a club the right of first refusal to match any incoming offers for the player. If he leaves, his now-former team will not receive any compensation.

How much does franchise-tagging a player cost?

When the NFL announced its $224.8 million salary cap for the 2023 season, it also revealed the franchise and transition numbers for this year. They are as follows:

2023 franchise/transition tag values

Position Franchise Tag Transition Tag
Position Franchise Tag Transition Tag
QB $32,416,000 $29,504,000
LB $20,926,000 $17,478,000
WR $19,743,000 $17,991,000
DE $19,727,000 $17,452,000
DT $18,937,000 $16,068,000
OL $18,244,000 $16,660,000
CB $18,140,000 $15,791,000
S $14,460,000 $11,867,000
TE $11,345,000 $9,716,000
RB $10,091,000 $8,429,000
ST $5,393,000 $4,869,000

As far as the New England Patriots are concerned, the franchise tag numbers that stand out are $19.74 million and $18.14 million. That is how much it would cost to tag wide receiver Jakobi Meyers and cornerback Jonathan Jones, respectively. But while those two are the top players on the team’s free agents list this offseason, it seems unlikely one of them will receive the tag.

Which NFL players might get tagged this year?

Dozens of players are scheduled to enter free agency next month, but only a handful of them are really realistic candidates to be tagged. Their combination of positional value and performance in years past makes the following players receiving the tag a realistic outcome.

RB Saquon Barkley (New York Giants): In 2022, Barkley finally returned to the form he showed as a rookie: he finished the season with 1,650 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns and was the Giants’ most productive skill position player.

S Jesse Bates (Cincinnati Bengals): Despite already receiving the tag last year, Bates and the Bengals have made not enough progress on a new contract. Him receiving the tag a second straight offseason — at an increased cost — is therefore a realistic outcome.

OT Orlando Brown Jr. (Kansas City Chiefs): Just like Jesse Bates, Orlando Brown also received the tag last year already. Unless he and the Chiefs are close to a new deal, tagging their starting left tackle a second time would make sense for the team.

QB Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens): Whether or not Jackson will be with the Ravens long-term remains to be seen, but tagging the former first-round draft pick is the likely outcome this time around. It would keep one of the NFL’s most dynamic players under contract, and give the team the option to trade him should push come to shove.

RB Josh Jacobs (Las Vegas Raiders): The Raiders declined Jacobs’ fifth-year contract option, setting him up to enter free agency this year. However, Josh McDaniels and company might prefer keeping him after he posted a league-high 2,053 yards from scrimmage in 2022.

QB Daniel Jones (New York Giants): Jones also did not see his fifth-year contract option get picked up, meaning that the Giants will have a decision to make about who to tag: their quarterback or star running back Saquon Barkley? Jones seems like the top choice given the importance of his position.

DT Daron Payne (Washington Commanders): While not as big a name as other players on this list, Payne also is worthy of receiving the tag. After all, he is coming off his best season to date — one that saw him register 11.5 sacks.

RB Tony Pollard (Dallas Cowboys): A leg injury ended Pollard’s season, but the Cowboys are reportedly open to making sure he sticks around through the use of the tag. Whether or not investing serious money in both Pollard and Ezekiel Elliot makes fiscal sense can be questioned, but there is no denying the 25-year-old is a dynamic player.

QB Geno Smith (Seattle Seahawks): The NFL Comeback Player of the Year made a strong case for himself as Seattle’s quarterback of the future. Is he an elite passer? No, but he played some very promising football in his first year as the Seahawks’ starter.

There are other candidates to receive the franchise tag as well, but the players listed here should be seen as the most realistic potential recipients. The next two weeks will show if any of them indeed get tagged.