It’s tag time, the first sign of a new NFL season to come.
Tuesday is the first day in a two-week period during which teams can use the franchise or transition tag on players. The period ends at 4 p.m. EST on March 6.
As teams begin to manage their rosters and the salary cap, they have three options: the exclusive franchise tag; the nonexclusive franchise tag; and the transition tag. In a nutshell, the franchise tag is a one-year, guaranteed offer that keeps a player from becoming a free agent, with the salary based on the five-year average cap percentage at each position. A player cannot negotiate with other teams.
A nonexclusive tag allows the player to negotiate with other teams, with the current team allowed to match any offer sheet. If the team declines to do so, it gets two first-round picks as compensation.
Under the transition tag, a team offers the player a salary that is the average of the top 10 salaries at his position, and he can negotiate with other teams. The original team has the right of first refusal to match any offer by another team. If the original team decides to retain the player, it must agree to the contract terms offered by the other team. If the original team decides not to match the offer and the player leaves, it receives nothing in compensation. A team can use the transition tag only if it hasn’t used the franchise tag in a given offseason.
Tagged players have until 4 p.m. ET July 16 to negotiate a multiyear contract with the team. After that, a player can sign only a one-year contract with his team for the 2018 season, and the contract cannot be extended until after the team’s last regular-season game.
Now that that’s out of the way, here are the names to watch as “tag season” begins. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell probably is the most likely candidate for a tag. Both Bell, whom the team tagged last year, and the Steelers want a long-term deal done, but General Manager Kevin Colbert has indicated that he might use the franchise tag in the interim. The franchise tag figure at running back is estimated to be around $14 million.
The Dallas Cowboys are expected to tag defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, although the Dallas Morning News reports that the move will not be immediate. Lawrence, a second-round draft pick, had a strong 2017 season, but the downside is that he also has been injured over his three seasons and was suspended for violating the substance-abuse policy. Both sides want a long-term deal.
The situation for wide receiver Allen Robinson, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the first week of the season, and the Jacksonville Jaguars is a little more complicated because of the injury, but they’re unlikely to let him depart without receiving something in return.
The Minnesota Vikings are in a unique position with quarterbacks Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater eligible to become free agents. (Bridgewater’s contract may roll into 2018 if he and the NFL Players Association can prove he was medically able to play before Week 6, the Star-Tribune reports.) Tagging Keenum, who took the team to the NFC championship game, would come at a $20 million-plus cost if the team can’t reach a long-term deal with him. The Vikings could let him leave, replacing him with Bradford or Bridgewater; sign a free agent like Kirk Cousins (assuming the Redskins don’t do something wild, like tagging him for the third straight year) or A.J. McCarron; or use a draft pick on a QB, going in a fresh direction.
Reports out of New York sound as if it’s unlikely that the New York Giants use the tag on offensive lineman Justin Pugh. His tag figure would come in at around $14 million and the team is likely to try to sign him to a longer deal at a lesser figure, according to NJ.com.
As with Pugh’s situation, others are not so clear-cut. Keep an eye on: cornerback Kyle Fuller as the Chicago Bears consider whether to place a tag on him; Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, who had 12 sacks in 14 games last season; the Los Angeles Rams’ debate over how to sign one player and tag another with wide receiver Sammy Watkins and safety Lamarcus Joyner; the Miami Dolphins’ consideration whether to tag wide receiver Jarvis Landry; and the Seattle Seahawks’ talks over how and whether to retain defensive end Sheldon Richardson, something Coach Pete Carroll has said he hopes to do.
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