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NFL free agency 2018: Explaining the franchise tag

Everything you need to know about the NFL franchise tag.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals don’t have many big free agents this year, so using the franchise tag seems like an unlikely option to keep one of their stars in Cincinnati for at least one more season.

With Tyler Eifert, Kevin Minter, Andre Smith, Russell Bodine, AJ McCarron and Kevin Huber all set to hit the open market in March, the Bengals will look to begin negotiations in the coming weeks, but, the team can end the suspense for one of those players by using the tag, though it’s highly unlikely that will happen.

All 32 NFL teams have the option of designating one player with the franchise tag. The window to do so began Tuesday, February 20. Teams then have until March 6 at 4 p.m. ET to use the designation, and this is the easiest way for clubs to ensure they don’t lose their best free agent.

Using the tag can lead to a lot of contention between teams and players who think they deserve to receive a lucrative long-term contract. Players have even held out under the tag before, and it’s typically a last resort for teams who simply can’t afford to lose their best players.

A team may only use one tag in a given year, and the salary is fully guaranteed once the player opts to sign the contract. Though, negotiations can later ensue to change the tag into a long-term deal. There are two levels of the franchise tag that teams can use -- exclusive and non-exclusive as well as a transition tag that can be applied to an impending free agent.

Per Over the Cap, here are the differences between each kind of tag that can be applied.

Exclusive Franchise Tag- This tag completely blocks a player from signing with another NFL team. It will be equal to the average of the top 5 salaries at the players position for the year or 120% of the players’ prior year salary. This number will be calculated at the end of the Restricted Free Agency period.

Non-Exclusive Franchise Tag- This is the most common tag that is applied in the NFL. The value is determined using five prior years of data to determine the percentage of the salary cap that a top 5 player at the position should occupy. This player can still negotiate with other teams but if they sign with another team the team that applied the tag has the option to match the contract or accept two first round draft picks as compensation.

Transition Tag- The Transition tag is calculated by using the top 10 salaries rather than top 5 salaries, which leads to a slightly lower cost than the Franchise tag. The player is again free to negotiate with other teams but his original team holds the right of first refusal on a contract. Because the difference in cost is minimal between this tag and the franchise tag this tag is rarely used.

The salary amount is set by the averaging the top five salaries by position for the previous league year, or if it’s higher, 120 percent of a player’s salary the previous season.

We don’t have official numbers for the 2018 season just yet, but they will be higher than they were a year ago. Here were the salary totals from 2017.

  • Quarterbacks: $21.268 million
  • Running backs: $12.120 million
  • Wide receivers: $15.682 million
  • Tight ends: $9.780 million
  • Offensive linemen: $14.271 million
  • Defensive tackles: $13.387million
  • Defensive ends: $16.934 million
  • Linebackers: $14.550 million
  • Cornerbacks: $14.212 million
  • Safeties: $10.896 million
  • Kickers/Punters: $4.835 million

Again, this probably won’t matter for the Bengals, who don’t have anyone worthy of the tag. Had Tyler Eifert been able to stay healthy, he would be more than worthy of it, but his inability to stay on the field makes it an easy call to pass on tagging him.