Everything you need to know about the NFL's 2017 franchise tag

It's that time of year when the NFL reminds you its calendar rarely slows and never stops. Ten days after Super Bowl LI, the first window of player movement decisions has opened.

Beginning Wednesday and continuing through March 1, teams can place the franchise tag on one pending free agent, a decision that is expensive but also provides massive leverage against losing a big-time player.

Transition tags can also be applied in this window, but the franchise tag is far more important -- and popular -- because it ensures the team a hefty return if a player ultimately departs. (Transition tags are cheaper, but offer only the opportunity to match an offer.)

As we enter the NFL's 25th offseason with the tag -- it made its debut in 1993 as the salary-cap era took off -- let's run through the basics, some recent trends and projections for 2017.

Please remind me exactly what the franchise tag is.

I appreciate your manners in these angry times.

The franchise tag is a labor designation that restricts a player's potential movement in exchange for a high one-year salary. It is governed by owners and players through the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and has two types.

Go on ...

The first is the "exclusive-rights" franchise tag. Any player with this tag is bound to the team for the upcoming season. His agent is prohibited from seeking offer sheets elsewhere. It is the average of the five-largest salaries at the player's position through the end of the current year's restricted free-agent signing period (April 21 this year), or 120 percent of the player's salary the previous year -- whichever is greater.

The second is the "non-exclusive" franchise tag. In this scenario, players can sign an offer sheet with another team. The original team has the opportunity to match that offer and retain the player under those exact terms, or it can allow the player to leave in exchange for two first-round draft picks from the new team. It is the average of the five-largest salaries at that position from the previous season, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary -- whichever is greater.

The intent and effect of the difference in calculation is to make the exclusive-rights tender more expensive.

What happens after the tag is applied?

It depends on the interest level between the sides.

The player can sign the tender at any time, a decision that fully guarantees the salary and immediately places all of it on the current year's cap charge. This can increase a player's leverage in a tight cap situation; the team will be motivated to negotiate a longer-term deal to lower the cap number.

The decision can also backfire if the team is comfortable with the high cap number; the leverage in this case would side with a player who remains unsigned as camp looms.

In either event, the sides have until July 15 to agree on a multi-year extension. After that point, the player can sign only a one-year contract. It cannot be extended until after the season.

Can a team rescind the tag?

Why, yes.

The Carolina Panthers did just that to cornerback Josh Norman last spring when they determined they wouldn't be able to sign him to a long-term extension. A rescinded tag is one of the risks players take when they don't immediately sign the tender. It can't be rescinded once it is signed.

What typically happens in these situations?

Here's a look at franchise tag results during the past five years, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information researcher Evan Kaplan:

  • 47 franchise tags extended

  • 22 players played out the season under the tag

  • 24 signed long-term extensions

  • One (New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul) signed a modified contract after July 15.

I'm an amateur capologist. Where can I find the franchise values for each position?

That's quite a hobby you've got there.

The NFL hasn't calculated them yet, and one of the twists of the franchise tag window is that teams can extend them without knowing the exact figure. They're usually released during the annual scouting combine, in the days before free agency begins. In a few cases, deals that happen between now and then can impact the exact numbers. The exact per-team salary-cap total -- also not solidified yet -- can change them as well.

Generally speaking, though, teams can estimate the numbers via manual analysis. ESPN senior writer John Clayton provided his own projections in the chart. They are based on a salary cap of $168 million per team.

Really? No firm numbers?

OK, maybe a few.

We know, based on the CBA, that a team has only one option when it wants to apply the tag in consecutive years to the same player: 120 percent of the previous year's tag. That could apply to a number of players in 2017, including Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins and Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry.

Cousins played under a $19.95 million tag in 2016, meaning his 2017 tag would be worth $23.94 million. Berry's tag would be valued at $12.96 million after he played 2016 at $10.8 million. (He has vowed not to play for the Chiefs in 2017 under another tag, presumably via holdout until a long-term extension can be reached.)

Other than Cousins and Berry, who else are 2017 franchise-tag candidates?

Here are some names to watch for if productive negotiations on long-term deals don't materialize:

Pittsburgh Steelers tailback Le'Veon Bell

Cleveland Browns receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr.

Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe (if not Berry)

New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower

Panthers defensive lineman Kawann Short

Arizona Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones

Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram

Buffalo Bills safety Stephon Gilmore

Chicago Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery

Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson

Is it always bad for the player to play under the franchise tag?

The franchise tag pays a player close to market value for one year, but provides no future guarantees. The tag becomes an advantage if a player remains healthy and valuable enough that the team feels compelled to use it multiple times. The second tag is slotted at 120 percent of the first, and the third at 144 percent of the second.

How rarely do teams use the tag on the same player in consecutive years?

It happens more often than you might think: 13 times since 1997, including twice since 2011 (Cleveland Browns place-kicker Phil Dawson and Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer).

It is much less common for skill players, however, and Cousins would be the first quarterback ever franchised in consecutive years. There have been only three skill players who have been tagged twice at any point in their careers: quarterbacks Drew Brees (2005, 2012) and Peyton Manning (2004, 2011) and receiver Rob Moore (1995, 1999).

Are some positions more susceptible to the franchise tag than others?


Per ESPN's Stats & Information research, 30 offensive linemen have been franchise tagged since 1993. And the tagged numbers are 26 for defensive ends and 24 for linebackers. On the other end, there have been four punters, nine quarterbacks and 10 running backs franchised.

Generally speaking, teams see a better economic value to leverage high-end linemen than skill position players.

Do some teams use the tag more than others?

Yes, but given the 25-year span of the tag's existence, the numbers are more a function of talent and cap management than a philosophical opposition or support of the tag itself.

The Indianapolis Colts have used it an NFL-high 11 times, followed by the Chiefs (10) and Seattle Seahawks (10). The Texans (one), Falcons (two) and Browns (three) have been the least likely teams to apply it.