Unavoidable and detested by most who are eligible, the NFL’s annual tag game begins Tuesday.
All 32 teams are allowed to play the not-so-popular franchise tag game, a roster-building accounting mechanism available to help those clubs retain free agents without the long-term demands and salary cap strain of a multi-year contract with numerous guaranteed elements.
Starting Tuesday and through March 5, teams can use the non-exclusive franchise tag — easily the most common — to promise a one-year salary for 2024 that is set using the value equal to the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position over the last five years.
If tagged with the non-exclusive marker, players who would otherwise be unrestricted free agents can still talk deals with other teams. However, the current team retains refusal rights — meaning it can match any offer a suitor proposes — or opt instead to receive two first-round draft picks as compensation if he signs with another club.
No outside negotiations are allowed for players who are hit with the exclusive franchise tag. That tag also raises the pay for the player in question to a one-year salary equal to the top five salaries at the player’s position for the current year — as opposed to the past five years — or 120 percent of his prior year’s salary, whichever is greater.
A transition tag, which comes with a player salary equal to the average of the top five salaries at the position over the past 10 years, maintains refusal rights for the existing or current team. But if said team declines to match an offer sheet made to that player, they receive no compensation for losing him to a new team.
DEADLINES, ET CETERA
Teams can use the transition or franchise tags through 4:00 p.m. ET on March 5.
Any player tagged can negotiate toward a long-term contract until July 15.
Players are not required to sign a tender offer as a transition or franchise player and cannot be fined for not participating in offseason workouts.
Failure to sign the tender and report to the team for the regular season can disqualify that player from accruing a season of service and impact eligibility for free agency and other player benefits.
Contract figures reflecting the market value by position showed a stark decline for running backs last season, much to the dismay of tagged Giants running back Saquon Barkley and 2022 NFL rushing leader Josh Jacobs of the Raiders.
Below are the non-exclusive franchise tag values at every position for 2024:
Running Back: $11,348,000
Defensive Tackle: $20,986,000
Wide Receiver: $20,714,000
Defensive End: $20,247,000
Offensive Line: $19,925,000
Tight End: $12,151,000
Here are five candidates to be tagged by their current NFL teams:
1. DE Brian Burns, Panthers
Contract talks went sideways last summer and Burns is on the record stating he wants to be the NFL’s highest-paid pass-rusher. Finding traction in that stratosphere might be challenging after an 8.0-sack season in 2023. With little draft capital, can the Panthers afford to watch him walk?
2. RB Josh Jacobs, Raiders
Backpedaling from the NFL rushing title to 805 yards in 2023 shifts leverage to the Raiders.
3. CB Jaylon Johnson, Bears
Johnson is among the top cover corners in the NFL and wants to be paid like one. The Bears might want to see it one more year before paying up. GM Ryan Pace tipped his hand here with the release of Cody Whitehair and Eddie Jackson.
4. DT Justin Madubuike, Ravens
Baltimore tagged, then re-signed, quarterback Lamar Jackson before he delivered his second MVP season in 2023. Madubuike had a breakout season with 13.0 sacks and 33 QB hits to continue his rise from third-round pick to second-team All-Pro. He’s just 26 years old.
5. WR Michael Pittman Jr, Colts
At $20.7 million for 2024, the Colts get to keep Pittman and pair him with 2023 draft pick Anthony Richardson at quarterback for a full test run. Pittman could be the most coveted free agent receiver available if he’s not tagged.
–Field Level Media