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It's NFL franchise tag season. What exactly does that mean?

Starting Wednesday and lasting through 4 p.m. March 1, NFL teams may apply the franchise tag or transition tag to a select few pending free agents. Here's everything you need to know about a somewhat complex issue.

Q: So why does the franchise tag exist?

A: In theory, it's to allow the smaller-market teams to compete with the big-market franchises by letting them lock up their prospective free agents beyond the original time frame of their contracts. Usually the franchise tag is reserved for a team's top pending free agent.

Q: How many franchise tags do teams get?

A: Just one per offseason.

Q: Do the players like it?

A: Probably not, as the teams have most of the leverage. For one, a franchise-tagged player's salary is guaranteed for only that season. If that player suffers an injury or underperforms during a franchise-tag year, it will negatively affect his value on the free agent market. For another, the franchise-tag year forces players to delay a big free agent payday by one season, one in which they almost certainly could have received more money on the open market.

Q: There are three types of tags. Explain them.

A: — An exclusive franchise tag means a team will pay that player no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player's position, or 120 percent of the player's previous salary, whichever is greater. The player is not allowed to negotiate with other teams.

— A nonexclusive franchise tag involves the same salary offer as an exclusive franchise tag, only the player can negotiate with other teams. The player's current team can match any offer sheet. If the old team declines to match the offer, it gets two first-round picks from the other team as compensation. This is the more commonly used franchise tag.

— By applying the transition tag, a team offers the player a salary that is the average of the top 10 salaries at his position. That player can negotiate with other teams. The player's original team has the right of first refusal to match any offer given to a transition-tagged player 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.

Thursday is the first day for NFL teams to designate Franchise or Transition Players.

Q: Can a player be given the franchise tag in consecutive years?

A: Yes, but it's a costly move for teams. For a player to be given the tag in two straight years, a team has to pay him 120 percent of his previous salary. If a team wants to franchise a player in three straight years, it would have to pay him 144 percent of his previous salary.

Q: If a player gets a franchise tag, then what happens?

A: The two sides then have until July 15 to work out a long-term contract. If no agreement is reached, the player plays that season under the terms of the one-year franchise tag. Then everything starts over again in the next offseason.

Q: So how often is this used?

A: Less and less these days as the salary cap keeps escalating, giving teams more freedom to work out long-term deals with their players. Last season, only 10 players were given franchise tags, and though that was more than in 2014 and 2015 combined, it was down 11 from 2012.

Q: Who could get the tag in 2017?

A: Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who has threatened not to play if he gets tagged for the second straight year even though it would pay him more than any other safety in the league. Kansas City also would like to keep two-time Pro Bowler Dontari Poe from hitting free agency and could instead use the tag on him.

It's already been reported that the Steelers will apply the franchise tag to running back Le'Veon Bell with hopes of working out a long-term deal.

The Cardinals already have said that they'll apply the franchise tag to linebacker Chandler Jones.

The Patriots likely will use the franchise tag on either linebacker Dont'a Hightower and tight end Martellus Bennett.

It's NFL franchise tag season. What exactly does that mean? 02/16/17 [Last modified: Thursday, February 16, 2017 12:03am]
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