Explaining the NFL’s Franchise/Transitional Tag and Identifying the 2019 Candidates

TUESDAY the 19th of February marks the first day that NFL teams can deal out the ‘tag’ to would-be free agents continuing through to the 5th of March. In layman’s terms, the franchise and transitional tags are a way that teams can hold onto their cherished stars for a hefty one-year sum and hopefully work out a longer contract. 2019 is no different to other seasons with plenty of noteworthy names putting their hands up as tag worthy candidates, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be part of that team’s long term plans.

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Franchise Tag Explained

SOME people often get confused by the franchise tag and it is quite easy to wrap your head around it when it’s explained properly. Simply put, if a team chooses to use their franchise tag on a potential free agent, that player will get a one-year salary priced at an average of the top five paid players at that position, or 120% of that players previous year’s salary, whichever number is greater. There’s no limit to how many times a player can be tagged, with 16 players in the past tagged for consecutive seasons. It gives the team flexibility in keeping their guys from leaving in free agency, but the downside for the player involved is there’s no long term security with this contract.

MAKING matters more confusing there are two types of franchise tags. The ‘exclusive rights’ tag prevents players and their agents from engaging in talks with other clubs, period. The ‘non-exclusive rights’ tag allows players to potentially negotiate a deal with other teams, but if they agree to a contract with a different franchise, the team that tagged the player receives future draft picks as compensation. Still following?

kirk cousins
Kirk Cousins found himself tagged in back-to-back years in 2016 & 2017 before signing with the Minnesota Vikings last off-season

Image from upi.com


Transitional Tag Explained

BUT wait, there’s more. The transitional tag in the NFL is a little different and works similar to restricted free agency in the NBA. Basically, a team that places the transitional tag on a player has the right to match any offer made by an opposing franchise. Should no offer come then the pending free-agent is paid a one-year salary priced at an average of the top 10 paid players at that position. Teams can only use the franchise OR transitional tag in one off-season, not both, however, the transitional tag is nowhere near as popular given that if a player leaves their former team gets no form of compensation.

Tag Candidates

WITH that out of the way, here are the 11 most likely candidates to be ‘tagged’ this off-season.

Jadaveon Clowney, DE, Houston Texans
PART of the debate revolving around Jadaveon Clowney isn’t whether the Texans should tag him or not, but rather what position he’ll classify under. While Houston will likely try to tag Clowney as a linebacker, he could earn just under $3 million extra if he convinces them he’s a defensive end. In recent times, he stepped up as the Texans’ lead pass-rusher when Watt went down and in 2018, Clowney excelled alongside his star defensive teammate, recording 18.5 sacks over the past two years. There’s not really a question over whether Houston will hold onto the former No. 1 overall pick or not, the real mystery is how many dollars he will demand in the long run.

Robbie Gould, K, San Fransisco 49ers
NO player has made a higher percentage of their field goal attempts in the past two years than Robbie Gould (72-75 at 96%), which could lead to San Fran tagging the veteran kicker. The 36-year old Gould is rumoured to be seeking a longer deal with a winning team, but the 49ers hold the power with a high likelihood they use their tag on him. In a league where seem to continually miss crucial kicks and pivotal moments (too soon Bears fans?), Gould is worth the potential $5+ million dollar payday.

robbie gouldImage from sacbee.com

Grady Jarrett, DT, Atlanta Falcons
GRADY Jarrett would likely have a Super Bowl LI MVP to his name if the Falcons weren’t Tom Brady’d two seasons ago, as Jarrett set a Super Bowl record with 3.0 sacks in the season decider. His worth is well known around the league and Atlanta’s GM Thomas Dimitroff has stated that signing Jarrett to a lengthy extension is at the top of their to-do list. And yet, nothing has transpired. They may opt to use their tag on him as they workshop a deal with his camp before the season begins.

Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
SPEAKING of Super Bowl MVP’s it seems that Nick Foles’ tenure in Philadelphia is drawing to a close with the franchise backing in Carson Wentz as their guy. Even if the Eagles do what we all expect and franchise tag the quarterbacking Messiah in Foles, it’s unlikely that he’ll be playing with them in 2019. Rather, the Eagles are planning to trade Foles to a team in desperate need for a QB with the Jaguars, Giants, Bengals and Dolphins all reportedly in the mix. There’s every chance that a trade doesn’t materialise, which would likely see Foles leave in free agency, but it’s a smart play from Philadelphia to try and get some return after his memorable second stint with the franchise.

Dee Ford, DE, Kansas City Chiefs
POTENTIALLY the trickiest one of the bunch to decipher is Kansas City’s defensive beast Dee Ford, who erupted in 2018, putting forth a career year. Ford led all edge rushers in pass pressures (77) and forced fumbles (seven) last season while recording 13.0 sacks for the Chiefs. Those type of numbers quickly dispelled any concerns over his health after a back injury held him to just six games the year before. It might be a worthwhile idea for KC to tag Ford and see if he can reproduce similar numbers in 2019, especially given the teams style of play. Led by Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City are expected to score a ton of points against next season, which could see their opponents being forced to throw a lot more often as they fall behind early. This gives their pass rushers the green light to get after the quarterback as often as possible with little fear over the running game.

Trey Flowers, DE, New England Patriots
WILL Bill Belichick finally buck the trend and pay up for a free agent? Traditionally paying big dollars for players isn’t something the New England Patriots do, but Trey Flowers is a different case. Their most reliable defender during three straight Super Bowl runs, Flowers has chalked up a team-best 21.0 sacks and deserves the paycheck coming his way. However, the franchise tag for DE’s comes at a weighty $18.6 million dollars and it might be wise for New England to let Flowers explore other options if that’s his price tag.

DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas Cowboys
AFTER being tagged last season the Cowboys will have to pay north of $20mil to keep DeMarcus Lawrence in Dallas colours moving forward. In 2017 Lawrence had a breakout season and he backed it up with his second-straight double-digit sack season for Dallas last year. He will likely be the prize jewel of the free agency class if he were to hit the open market, which makes me think the Cowboys will do everything in their power to hold onto him, even if that means overpaying to keep him around long-term.

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
NOT again. After playing under the tag in 2017, Le’Veon Bell famously sat out the entire 2018 season with a return to the Steelers seeming unlikely. However. There is a chance that the Steelers use the transition tag on Bell, that would likely see him, ironically, earn about the same amount of money he turned down last season. The reasoning behind Pittsburgh’s move is then they would be in a position to trade Bell before the 5th of March deadline, getting some return for the superstar, dual-threat halfback. Regardless of what tag the Steelers use or how they opt to attack this Bell scenario, I would be stunned if he returned to the Iron City.

Landon Collins, S, New York Giants
TALENTED safety Landon Collins has stated he wants to stay a Giant and New York would be somewhat foolish to let a 25-year old defensive playmaker like Collins walk in free agency. Ending two straight seasons on IR gives the Giants pause when it comes to a multi-year contract though even if he’s a crucial cog in their lacklustre defense. There are doubts over whether Collins and the Giants can come to an agreement on an extension, with the most likely scenario leading to the 3x Pro Bowler playing out the year under the tag.

Frank Clark, DE, Seattle Seahawks
BOTH sides seem content to use the franchise tag and orchestrate a long-term deal over time. Besides, Frank Clark has been a reliable force on Seattle’s D-line with his 32.0 sacks since 2016 the ninth highest tally in the league. Seahawks head coach Pete Carrol is also on record saying they want to keep him around long term only further pointing fingers at the possibility of a tag coming Clark’s way.

C.J. Mosley, LB, Baltimore Ravens
WITH a new regime in Baltimore we could see a different game plan when it comes to spending up for free agents for the Ravens moving forward. No longer will Ozzie Newsome stockpile compensatory draft picks for players leaving in free agency and new GM Eric DeCosta has been vocal in stating they want Mosley in Baltimore next season. The best tackler (105 last season) on the best defense in football is undoubtedly an indispensable member of their team and while the franchise tag is in play it seems like both sides will strive for a contract extension this offseason. Retaining Mosley in free agency seems like a smart play for the Ravens.

Peace ✌

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