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The 2018 NFL franchise tag explained in a 2-minute read

Here’s why teams like the franchise tag, why players hate it, and who’s likely to get it.

NFC Championship - Minnesota Vikings v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

NFL teams could start using the franchise tag from Feb. 20 to March 6. The whole thing can be confusing, but we’re here to help.

The franchise tag is a system that allows teams to hold on to top talent instead of letting them hit free agency. It gives teams and players a window of a few months to work out a long-term deal. If that doesn’t happen by the deadline, then the player gets paid an average of the top salaries at his position. But even though that winds up being a ton of money, players aren’t big fans of the tag.

Here’s everything you need to know about the franchise tag.

There are three different types of franchise tags. Teams can use the exclusive, non-exclusive, or transition tag. The non-exclusive tag, which allows players to negotiate with other clubs even as their team holds the right to match, is the most common.

Important dates to know: Teams could start to apply these designations to players on Feb. 20 and had until March 6 at 4 p.m. ET to do so. Most players who are set to hit free agency when the new league year begins on March 14 are eligible for the tag. And if the player and team are going to work out a long-term deal, that has to happen no later than July 16. If not, the tagged player will play that season under the tag.

Are there players who can’t be tagged? Yes, but it’s rare. This year, free-agents-to-be Drew Brees and Nate Solder have clauses in their contracts blocking the franchise tag from being applied. Brees, who has been given the franchise tag twice in his career, will almost certainly re-sign with the Saints. The Patriots will also try to lock down left tackle Solder, but he could hit the open market.

Which players got tagged this year? In total, six players got a tag. The Dolphins used theirs on Jarvis Landry, while the Lions tagged pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah and the Cowboys tagged Demarcus Lawrence. Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner was also given the tag before the deadline. For the second year in a row, the Steelers risked making Le’Veon Bell angry with the franchise tag.

The Bears gave cornerback Kyle Fuller the transition tag.

Why do players hate the franchise tag? Even if their team is willing to work toward a long-term deal, the franchise tag means the player won’t have much leverage in those negotiations.

In free agency, competition from other teams can drive up a player’s price. That is eliminated when a player’s operating under the franchise tag. And if a player doesn’t land a long-term deal with his team after being tagged, he has no security after that season.

Why do teams like the tag? It gives them control over a star player’s future and some flexibility and time to work out a long-term deal. Plus, that whole loss of leverage thing that players hate? Well, that works in teams’ favor when negotiating contracts.

So that’s why you’ll see teams slapping tags on players as soon as they’re allowed to do so. It’s also why you may see Bell hold out again after the Steelers chose to tag him for a second time.