On the first day NFL teams could use franchise and transition tags for the 2016 season, none did.
That will be changing before the league’s March 1 deadline to do so.
Clubs that are unsuccessful in negotiating long-term contract extensions with players they don’t want to lose will use the tag. One of the two franchise designations (exclusive or non-exclusive) is the safest bet to keep a player in the fold.
The non-exclusive tag requires an interested suitor to surrender two first-round picks as compensation while also opening a window for the player’s current team to match the contract tendered. The exclusive tag doesn’t even allow a player to sign an offer elsewhere but yields a higher one-year salary.
The salary under the non-exclusive designation is the average of the top five cap hits at the respective position for the previous five years or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary if that number is greater. The exclusive tag is valued at the top five salaries for the position during the current year or the same 120 percent rule if applicable.
The transition designation is trickier. It’s cheaper for the parent team as the value is equivalent to the positional average of the top 10 salaries from the prior season or the 120 percent rule. But the chances of losing a transition-tagged player are much higher. The parent team can only match an offer sheet that is signed elsewhere and does not receive draft-pick compensation if it isn’t matched.
One further element to all this: Teams have until July 15 to sign a franchise player to a multiyear contract. Otherwise, that player is locked into a one-year deal with no extensions allowed until the following offseason.
The deadline tends to produce results. Four of the five players given the franchise tag in 2015 – Kansas City outside linebacker Justin Houston, Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant and New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski – signed multiyear deals on the last day they could. The lone exception was New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who had recently suffered a serious hand injury in a fireworks accident.
Here are the six players most likely to receive the franchise/transition designation in 2016 sans a contract extension. Official franchise/transition tag salaries are pending as the NFL’s 2016 salary cap number is being finalized.
Denver outside linebacker Von Miller.This is a no-brainer after Miller’s 11-sack season and MVP performance in Super Bowl 50. A long-term deal will assuredly exceed the $16.8 million per-year average that currently makes Houston the league’s highest paid outside linebacker.
New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. The two sides were so far apart last summer that contract talks weren’t even held during the regular season. The Jets have two other ends drafted in the top 10 on their roster in Leonard Williams and Sheldon Richardson, but the latter must win back the trust of management after a series of off-field problems led to a 2015 suspension.
Carolina cornerback Josh Norman. After experiencing major salary cap issues in previous seasons, the Panthers are now in good enough shape to ensure the NFL’s top cornerback in 2015 doesn’t leave town.
Kansas City safety Eric Berry. Use of the franchise tag may not be necessary as NFL Network reported the Chiefs are trying to negotiate a long-term extension with Berry, who returned to Pro Bowl form in 2015 after being diagnosed with cancer the previous season.
Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker. Despite having made a career-low rate of his field goals (82.5 percent) in 2015, Tucker’s value to the Ravens remains high. The tag also would cost Baltimore only an estimated $4.5 million under the cap.
Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins. Is he really worth a franchise tag valued at an estimated $20 million in 2016 when that is what the game’s truly elite passers are earning? Lacking other options at the position, the Redskins may have no choice but to bite that bullet for at least the short term. Cousins, though, should remember that his market value will crash if he’s unable to build upon his breakthrough 2015 campaign.
Other possibilities for the franchise/transition tag: Miami defensive end Olivier Vernon, Oakland punter Marquette King, Jacksonville punter Bryan Anger, St. Louis kicker Greg Zuerlein, Chicago wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey, Buffalo tackle Cordy Glenn, Seattle tackle Russell Okung, Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby and Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin.