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The Franchise Tag: Who Is Eligible? What Exactly Does It Mean?

By ZAC BOYER | zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

With Washington Redskins tight end Fred Davis receiving the franchise tag from the team Friday afternoon, it may help, via the league’s collective bargaining agreement, to recap just what that means.

A player is eligible for the franchise tag if he is set to become an unrestricted free agent when the league year begins (in this case, March 13). Teams have until eight days before the league year begins (March 5, or Monday) to determine whether or not to use the franchise tag, and if so, to notify that player, his agent and the NFL Players’ Association that it intends to do so.

There are two types of franchise tags: exclusive and non-exclusive, each of which refers to a player’s ability to negotiate with other teams. With the non-exclusive tag, if a player signs with another team, that team will surrender two future first-round selections in the NFL Draft to the team that applied the franchise tag.

What does that mean? A player designated with the franchise tag is offered a one-year contract valued at either the average salary of the highest-paid players in the league at the position over the past five years or a salary at 120 percent of what the player made the previous year, whichever is greater. The second option rarely occurs; in the previous collective bargaining agreement, players were paid the average salary of the five highest-paid players at the position over the past year.

There are other certain restrictions placed upon both teams and players when the franchise tag is used, including the guarantee of that salary for the year if a player is cut. Teams and players then have until July 16 of this year to negotiate upon a long-term contract. When a player is given the tag a third time, there are severe financial escalators built in for that player, which in the past has often led to a one-year contract at the average of the five highest-paid players at any position in the league.

The franchise tag was first instituted by the NFL in 1993 in order for teams to have a larger window to negotiate with their own free agents. Teams are not required to use it every year; in fact, the Washington Redskins had not used it since 2004, when it did to on cornerback Champ Bailey, while Atlanta has not done so in the previous 19 seasons it has been an option.

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