What Does a Franchise Tag Mean in the NFL? How does it work?

The NFL offseason is a whirlwind of activity, with free agency taking center stage. But what happens when a team can’t let go of a star player on the verge of becoming a free agent? Enter the franchise tag, a tool that allows teams to hold onto a player for one more season under specific conditions.

This article dives deep into the intricacies of the franchise tag, from its purpose and mechanics to its impact on players, teams, and the league as a whole. So, buckle up, football fans, and get ready to navigate the complexities of this often-discussed topic.

what is a franchise tag in the nfl
what is a franchise tag in the nfl

What is the Franchise Tag?

Imagine a player who’s the heart and soul of your favorite team. They’re about to enter unrestricted free agency, meaning any team can make them an offer. The thought of them potentially wearing another team’s jersey is gut-wrenching.

This is where the franchise tag swoops in. It’s a one-year designated contract a team can use on a single player scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. Think of it as a safety net, allowing the team to retain the player for one more season while negotiations for a long-term deal continue.

However, it’s crucial to remember that the franchise tag isn’t a magic wand. It comes with its own set of rules and nuances, which we’ll explore in the next section.

The Mechanics of the Franchise Tag

The franchise tag isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Two types exist, each with distinct implications:

Exclusive Franchise Tag: This is the stronger variant. Once designated, the player is prohibited from negotiating with other teams. The team, however, must offer a contract worth the average of the top-five salaries at the player’s position for that year or 120% of their previous year’s salary, whichever is higher.

Think of it as a guaranteed, albeit non-negotiable, one-year contract for the player. However, if they don’t reach a long-term deal before a specific deadline (typically Week 10 of the season), they can’t play anywhere else that year.

Non-Exclusive Franchise Tag: This option grants the player more freedom. They can still negotiate with other teams, but their current team has the right to match any offer sheet. However, if they choose not to match, they receive two first-round draft picks as compensation from the team signing the player.

This option offers the player a chance to potentially secure a more lucrative deal elsewhere, but it comes with the risk of their current team letting them walk for significant draft capital.

How much do players earn on the franchise tag?

PositionNon-Exclusive Franchise TagTransition Franchise Tag
Running Backs$11,951,000$9,765,000
Wide Receivers$21,816,000$19,766,000
Tight Ends$12,693,000$10,878,000
Offensive Linemen$20,985,000$19,040,000
Defensive Ends$21,324,000$19,076,000
Defensive Tackles$22,102,000$18,491,000

Please note:

  • These values are for the current period and may change in future periods.
  • Exclusive franchise tag values are not provided here as they are determined based on the top salaries of the current year, which are not available until after restricted free agency ends.
  • Tagging a player multiple times results in increased values, with a 120% raise for the second tag and a 144% raise for the third and final tag.

Who are some recent examples of tagged players?

In the previous season, six players were designated with the nonexclusive franchise tag:

  • Lamar Jackson, representing the Baltimore Ravens
  • Saquon Barkley, representing the New York Giants
  • Evan Engram, representing the Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Josh Jacobs, representing the Las Vegas Raiders
  • Daron Payne, representing the Washington Commanders
  • Tony Pollard, representing the Dallas Cowboys


  • Lamar Jackson and the Ravens reached an agreement on a lucrative five-year contract valued at $260 million.
  • Evan Engram secured a three-year contract with the Jaguars, valued at $41.25 million.
  • Daron Payne and the Commanders finalized a four-year deal amounting to $90 million.
  • Josh Jacobs initially hesitated but later settled with the Raiders on a reworked one-year contract worth $12 million before the regular season commenced.
  • Saquon Barkley and Tony Pollard both played out the season under the franchise tag.”

When Do Teams Use the Franchise Tag?

Teams typically deploy the franchise tag strategically under certain circumstances:

  • Bridge the Gap: Negotiations for a long-term deal might be at an impasse. The tag buys the team and player more time to reach an agreement.
  • Retain Top Talent: Losing a star player can significantly impact a team’s performance. The tag allows them to keep the player while negotiations continue.
  • Avoid Competition: By preventing other teams from negotiating with the player, the tag shields them from potentially inflated offers in a bidding war.

However, the franchise tag isn’t without its drawbacks. It can be a financially significant burden for teams and a dissatisfying outcome for players who might desire long-term security and potentially higher salaries through free agency.

The Impact of the Franchise Tag

The franchise tag has a multifaceted impact on different stakeholders in the NFL:

  • Teams: It provides a safety net to retain key players, but it also comes with a high financial cost and might sour player relations if overused.
  • Players: While it guarantees a year of high pay, it limits their negotiating power and can be seen as a form of restriction.
  • League: It helps maintain competitive balance by preventing teams from losing their best players, but it can also create salary cap issues and potentially limit player movement.
what is a franchise tag in the nfl

Teams and the Franchise Tag

While seemingly beneficial, the franchise tag presents teams with a delicate balancing act:

  • Short-Term Gain vs. Long-Term Cost: The guaranteed one-year salary can be hefty, potentially hindering future contract negotiations or limiting their ability to sign other players.
  • Impact on Player Morale: Overusing the tag can create resentment and disrupt team chemistry, as players might feel undervalued or restricted.
  • Strategic Considerations: Teams need to carefully weigh the long-term implications of using the tag against potential alternatives like free agency or player development.

Players and the Franchise Tag

For players, the franchise tag can be a double-edged sword:

  • Financial Security: It guarantees a high salary for one year, offering financial stability while negotiations continue.
  • Limited Leverage: Negotiating power diminishes, as players cannot leverage offers from other teams for a potentially better long-term deal.
  • Career Uncertainty: The one-year contract leaves players in limbo, unsure of their future after the season.

Navigating the franchise tag requires careful consideration of personal financial needs, career aspirations, and the long-term impact on their value within the league.

The League and the Franchise Tag

The impact of the franchise tag extends beyond individual teams and players, affecting the overall landscape of the league:

  • Competitive Balance: It allows teams to retain key players, preventing drastic shifts in power and maintaining a level playing field.
  • Salary Cap Issues: The high cost of franchise-tagged players can strain teams’ resources, potentially leading to an uneven distribution of talent and resources.
  • Player Movement: The tag can restrict player movement, potentially hindering team growth and development through the free agency market.

The NFL continuously evaluates the use and potential adjustments to the franchise tag to ensure it strikes a balance between maintaining competitive balance and fostering fair player movement and market value.

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The NFL franchise tag is a complex tool with significant implications for teams, players, and the league as a whole. While it provides a safety net for teams and financial security for players in the short term, it also carries drawbacks that need to be acknowledged.

Understanding the mechanics, motivations, and multifaceted impact of the franchise tag is crucial for appreciating the intricacies of professional football and the ongoing discussions surrounding player movement and contract negotiations in the NFL.


Can a player refuse the franchise tag?

Players can technically refuse the franchise tag, but it comes with consequences. They forfeit their right to play for the entire season unless they reach a long-term agreement with their team before a specific deadline.

How often can a team use the franchise tag on the same player?

Teams can only use the franchise tag on the same player twice in their career.

Does the franchise tag count towards the salary cap?

Yes, the salary assigned to a franchise-tagged player counts toward the team’s salary cap.

What is the difference between the franchise tag and the transition tag?

The transition tag is a less restrictive option that allows players to negotiate with other teams. However, if another team signs the player, the original team gets compensation in the form of draft picks.

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