Starting today, February 16, NFL teams can assign franchise or transition tags to a player for 2015. While a club could technically use its franchise or transition tag as early as today, we likely won’t see much action until closer to the deadline, as teams try to maintain flexibility and work out longer-term deals with their potential candidates. The period lasts two weeks, meaning clubs will have to make their decisions by March 2 and 3:00pm central time.
As we explain in greater detail in our glossary entry on the subject, each team can use the franchise or transition tag on one player, and it means tendering a one-year contract offer to that player. Depending on the type of tag used, that player may still be able to negotiate with other teams, but it essentially makes him a restricted free agent, meaning a suitor hoping to sign him would have to part with a draft pick or two to land him. In many cases, the player will simply accept the one-year tender, though that one-year contract can also serve as a placeholder while the two sides try to strike a multiyear agreement.
For the most part, amounts of the one-year salaries for 2015 have not yet been determined, since they’re tied to the salary cap, which hasn’t been finalized and announced for the new league year. However, it’s safe to assume that the amounts will be higher than they were last year. Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com recently offered estimates for the ’15 franchise figures based on a $140MM salary cap.
As the March 2 deadline approaches, potential franchise tag candidates to watch include Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant, Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas, Chiefs pass rusher Justin Houston, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and Patriots safety Devin McCourty. In some cases, those players’ teams will have to make roster moves before they can afford to use the franchise or transition tag on a player — Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press noted today that the Lions would have to release a handful of high-priced veterans or restructure several contracts before they’d have room for Suh’s franchise salary, which is already set at nearly $26.9MM (120% of his previous salary).
I recently took an extended look at franchise tag candidates by division, ultimately concluding that there are at least a dozen viable candidates. However, some of those players are teammates, and not all will be tagged. A year ago, four players were franchised and two more received the transition tag, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if about six players are tagged again this time around.