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The NFL’s franchise, transition, and non-exclusive tags, explained

What are the types of franchise tags in the NFL, and who might receive one this offseason?

Denver Broncos v Baltimore Ravens Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Tuesday marks the beginning of the NFL’s franchise tag window. Starting on February 21, and running through March 7, teams can use one of the three available tags on players entering free agency, preventing a player from reaching the open market.

As noted, there are three potential tags that a team can use on a player. Let’s break the three tags down, highlight what players received a franchise tag last season, and highlight some players to watch in the days ahead.

Transition tag

The transition tag is not as common as the non-exclusive franchise tag. Under the transition tag, the player is given a one-year deal, with the salary determined by the cap percentage average of the ten largest prior year salaries at a player’s position, or 120 percent of his previous season’s salary, whichever is higher.

As you will see in a moment, using the last ten years of data this makes the transition tag cheaper than the non-exclusive, or exclusive, franchise tags.

However, there is a catch for the team. Players given the transition tag are free to negotiate with other teams, and can be extended an offer sheet. If the player’s current team cannot match the offer, that player is free to sign with the new team, and the current team does not receive any sort of compensation.

Exclusive tag

The exclusive franchise tag is also rather uncommon. Under this designation, the tagged player cannot negotiate with other teams. However, the price is higher. Under the exclusive franchise tag, the one-year salary for the player is either the average of the top five salaries of the player’s position for the current year, or 120 percent of his previous salary.

By using just the current year of salary data, that means the price tag will be higher than using the last ten years of data to generate an average — as you see under the transition tag — or the last five years of data as is done with the non-exclusive franchise tag.

A player can still end up playing for a different team during the next season, but only via a trade.

The exclusive tag is rare. Since 2012, only four players have received this tag: Drew Brees (2012), Von Miller (2016), Kirk Cousins (2017), and Le’Veon Bell (2017).

Non-exclusive tag

This is the most common tag used each offseason. Under the non-exclusive tag, the player is given a one-year deal based on an average of the top five salaries at the respective position over the last five years, or 120 percent of his previous salary, whichever is greater. So, it is cheaper than the exclusive franchise tag, but more expensive than the transition tag.

However, the player is free to negotiate with other teams. Should the player sign an offer sheet from another NFL team, the player’s current team has the right to match the offer. If they do not, they receive two first-round draft picks as compensation when the player leaves for a new team.

Can a player receive a tag two seasons in a row?

A player can receive a franchise tag up to three times. Each time, however, the cost skyrockets. A player that receives a franchise tag for the second time sees their salary automatically increase by 20%.

If the player receives the tag for a third time, their salary jumps by 44% from the previous year.

So, for example, say a safety received the franchise tag last year, which came with a price tag of $12,911,000 for a one-year contract. A franchise tag on that player would cost $15,493,200, which as we will see is more than the franchise tag value for this season.

Tagging that player for a third year in a row? That would mean their 2024 salary would be $22,310,208.

We will return to this ... hypothetical ... in a second.

Current tag values

Here are the current tag values for both the franchise tag, and the transition tag, for the 2023 season:

2023 Tag Values

Position Franchise Tag Transition Tag
Position Franchise Tag Transition Tag
QB $32,416,000 $29,504,000
LB $20,926,000 $17,478,000
WR $19,743,000 $17,991,000
DE $19,727,000 $17,452,000
DT $18,937,000 $16,068,000
OL $18,244,000 $16,660,000
CB $18,140,000 $15,791,000
S $14,460,000 $11,867,000
TE $11,345,000 $9,716,000
RB $10,091,000 $8,429,000
ST $5,393,000 $4,869,000

Who received these tags last offseason?

NFL: SEP 18 Dolphins at Ravens Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Eight players received the franchise tag last offseason: Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki — he of the “unseasoned griddy” — Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku, Cincinnati Bengals safety Jesse Bates III — Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., Dallas Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz, Jacksonville Jaguars left tackle Cam Robinson, current Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams — who received the tag while while the Green Bay Packers — and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin.

Players to watch this season?

There are a number of players to watch this offseason for the franchise tags. We can start with the quarterbacks. Lamar Jackson with the Baltimore Ravens, Geno Smith with the Seattle Seahawks, and Daniel Jones with the New York Giants are three quarterbacks that could receive one of these tags over the next few weeks.

Jones is not the only member of the Giants who could be facing a franchise tag this off-season. Running back Saquon Barkley, who returned to form with 1,650 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns, could also receive the tag.

Two players who received tags last year could be in the mix this season. Both Orlando Brown Jr. with the Chiefs and Jesse Bates III with the Bengals are players to watch who received the tag a year ago.

And yes, the above scenario regarding the tag in three-straight years was done with Bates in mind.

Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Evan Engram is a player to watch. Engram signed a one-year deal with Jacksonville last year, and put together a strong season for the Jaguars, catching a career-best 73 passes. If the sides cannot come to terms on a long-term deal, the tag will buy them some time.

Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders is another candidate. The team declined his fifth-year option last spring, but Jacobs responded with a career year. The running back gained 1,653 yards on the ground and totaled over 2,000 yards from scrimmage.

C.J. Gardner-Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles is another candidate. The Eagles face a number of free agents on the defensive side of the football, including Gardner-Johnson. There is already reporting out from Philadelphia that the team is working towards a long-term deal with the defensive back, but the tag is an option if a deal cannot get done.