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What is the NFL franchise tag and how does it work?

The NFL offseason is just starting to heat up. Here's a brief overview of the franchise tag, projected values and top candidates to get tagged this year.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the NFL offseason is here, the first order of business -- aside from the NFL Combine -- is determining which impending free agents teams will want to keep. One of the most important decisions to make is whether to assign the franchise tag to a marquee player.

The franchise tag is more or less a last resort for teams trying to retain their best unrestricted free agents. It's essentially a one-year deal that grants a window to negotiate a long-term contract. If no deal is struck before July 15, the player gets locked into his one-year deal. The price is based on the average of the top five salaries from the player's position or 120 percent of his previous salary, whichever number is higher. Needless to say, teams will try to avoid tagging quarterbacks and pass rushers because those positions tend to be the most expensive.

There are two types of franchise tags: exclusive and non-exclusive. The exclusive tag is the one described earlier with only the original team allowed to negotiate with the player. The non-exclusive tag allows other teams to negotiate with the original team given the choice to match any offer. If the original team chooses not to match an offer, it receives two first-round picks as compensation. The transition tag is similar to non-exclusive, except the original team gets no compensation if it doesn't match the offer.

Last season, nine players got tagged by their teams, with varying levels of negotiating drama between the players and their teams.

In other words, the franchise tag is mostly a negotiation ploy these days. The players don't want them because they lack long-term security, while the teams want to avoid them because of the massive salary cap hits. The franchise tag is basically a long-winded way of getting both parties to the table with urgency.

Although the NFL has yet to release the official numbers, Joel Corry of CBS projected the franchise-tag salaries for each position based off a $168 million salary cap:

Quarterbacks: $21.395 million
Running backs: $12.377 million
Wide receivers: $15.826 million
Tight ends: $9.894 million
Offensive linemen: $14.444 million
Defensive tackles: $13.468 million
Defensive ends: $16.955 million
Linebackers: $14.754 million
Cornerbacks: $14.297 million
Safeties: $10.961 million
Kickers/Punters: $4.863 million

So which players are likely to get tagged this year? Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell and Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins headline the group, but there's a pretty long list of names to know.