In the NFL, given the relatively shot careers of players, getting paid the contract that will set a player and his family up for life is always the goal. Talent gets paid in the NFL, but today begins a two-week window that most players never want to be part of.
Starting today and running through March 1, teams can apply the franchise tag designation on players. Simply stated, the franchise tag greatly restricts, if not eliminates, a chance for a player to hit the open market.
It does come with a reward – the player is guaranteed the salary of the top five players at his position when the final numbers are set or 120 percent of his current salary – whichever is higher. There are two designations to the franchise tag. A player can be named “exclusive,” which entitles him to a salary that is no less than the average salary of the top five salaries at his position. A player can be designated as “non-exclusive,” which pays him a one-year contract of the top five cap hits from the previous five years. A non-exclusive player is able to negotiate with other teams and sign an offer sheet, but if his current team doesn’t match it, the signing team must give up two first-round draft picks as compensation, something that has never been done in the history of the salary cap era because of the value associated with first-round draft picks.
There is also the transition tag, which pays a player the average of the top 10 salaries at his position and if another teams signs that player to an offer sheet, the original team has the right match the offer, but receives no compensation if that player signs with another team.
In 2015, the franchise numbers translated to $18.54 million for quarterbacks, $14.81 million for defensive ends, $13.2 million for linebackers, $13.08 million for cornerbacks, $12.94 million for offensive linemen, $12.83 million for wide receivers, $11.19 million for defensive tackles, $10.95 million for running backs, $9.62 million for safeties, $8.35 million for tight ends and $4.13 million for kickers and punters.
While that sounds like a good thing for the players, the franchise tag delays a player from receiving a monstrous signing bonus and guaranteed money that are associated with long-term contracts. When a team places the franchise tag on a player, it sometimes results in resentment from the player being tagged and often creates a fracture between the player and the organization.
With the franchise tag established in 1993, the Minnesota Vikings have made a point to avoid getting players into a contract squabble by placing the franchise tag on him. The Vikings have only done it twice in the 23 years of the tag system, on tight end Jim Kleinsasser in 2003 and linebacker Chad Greenway in 2011.
In 2003, word got out that Redskins coach Joe Gibbs was enamored with Kleinsasser and the Vikings reacted by surprising him with the franchise tag. With the looming lockout coming in 2011, 13 teams placed the franchise tag on players, including the Vikings with Greenway.
Other than that, the Vikings have never been involved in franchise-tagging players because there tends to be hard feelings about it when it happens.
In 2012, a record 19 players received the franchise tag. Since then, with the advent of the new collective bargaining agreement and the increase in the salary cap, fewer teams have resorted to the placing the franchise tag on players. In 2013, just eight players were tagged and only six have been tagged in each of the last two seasons.
There are a handful of players who appear most likely to get hit with the franchise tag in the coming days, including Denver pass rusher Von Miller, Washington QB Kirk Cousins, Carolina cornerback Josh Norman, Chicago wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. Others who have been mentioned as potential candidates include Kansas City safety Eric Berry, Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin, Buffalo tackle Cordy Glenn, Miami defensive end Olivier Vernon and Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson.
Had the Vikings not extended contract offers to pick up the fifth-year option on safety Harrison Smith and offensive tackle Matt Kalil, the Vikings might have found themselves in a similar situation, but the hope is that, if the team plans on keeping both of them, they can lock down those players to long-term deals before they get to the 11th hour and free agency looms next year.
If there is a strength to the Vikings organization, it has been that they have found a way to lock down their star players before they get to the point where franchising them is an untenable option. Both Greenway and Kleinsasser understood the business decision the Vikings made, didn’t squawk about getting the franchise designation and eventually signed long-term contracts after having the franchise tag placed on them.
For other organizations and other players, that hasn’t been the case. Once again, the franchise-tagging period will come and go without the Vikings being involved and both ownership and the players will be happy to see that eventuality take place.