Saturday, 23 February 2013

NFL: Franchise tagged players

With the NFL franchise tag window opening Monday, we take a look at what the franchise tag actually is and players that could be playing under one come next season

The term ‘franchise tag’ may be unfamiliar to amateur fans of the NFL, but it is certainly a major part of the off-season that can have a great influence in free agency.

The franchise tag is essentially a ‘hands off’ sticker, when an unrestricted free agent (any team will be able to sign them in free agency) is given the tag no other team is allowed to talk to the player or make a bid on them in the free agency process.

It allows teams to lock up that one player that they cannot and do not want to risk leaving. For example, if a team’s franchise quarterback’s contract is up but they haven’t worked out a deal yet, he can be given the tag so that other QB needy teams can’t come in and sweep him away with a massive contract offer. Think Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens this off-season.

Franchise tags can be pretty unpopular among players wanting to hit the market and land a massive contract, which results from the supply and demand bidding frenzy system of free agency. This usually results in aging free agents getting massively overpaid, particularly when going to the smaller name, worse-off teams that have to offer higher salaries to get the players to sign, i.e. Mario Williams and the Buffalo Bills last off-season.

So taking away a player’s opportunity to get his payday can really get him wound up, some players such as Detroit Lions defensive end Cliff Avril and Atlanta Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes last off-season even going so far as to nearly refuse to sign the franchise tag contract itself.
These situations often arise on the teams close to the salary cap, with often a limited cap-space left teams cannot always afford to pay to keep their free agents so the salary cap provides a short term ‘stop-gap’ to keep the player at the team.

Though the cap itself does not come cheap it is most often cheaper than giving the player an extension. The new method of calculating the salary cap cost agreed under last season’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement is that the amounts of the franchise and transition tags at each position from the previous five seasons are added up and then divided by the sum of the league-wide salary cap number from the previous five seasons. 

For the uncapped 2010 season, the league uses the average of the 2009 and 2011 salary caps. The resulting percentage will be multiplied by the league-wide salary cap for the upcoming season to calculate the non-exclusive franchise tag and transition tag amounts. Complicated.

This season sees a number or prominent players emerging as candidate for their team’s franchise tag –

-          Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens – Mentioned earlier, Flacco is set to be an unrestricted free agent going into the 2013 NFL free agency. There is no way that the Ravens will want to let any other team talk to or make a bid on Flacco as this will only drive his contract value up. It is unlikely that the Ravens or their franchise quarterback will want to part ways with each other, and the quarterback tag will not be cheap, but it will ensure that the two parties will be able to securely negotiate a new deal without any other offers coming in.

     Ryan Clady, OT, Denver Broncos – Allowing only 1 sack all of last season, Ryan Clady is a key player for the Denver Broncos and they want to keep him on board. However, the $9.66mln figure that Clady would be likely to receive from the franchise tag  is sub-par for the pay of a top offensive tackle in the league. Clady has already expressed dissatisfaction with potentially receiving the franchise tag and the possibility of a holdout has arisen. 

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