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   Cost of Applying the Franchise Tag: 2017

February 24, 2018
Al Lackner
Before we start talking about projected numbers, lets review the NFL's definition of a Franchise Player and what is involved when a team whips out the tag.

Each Club can designate one of its players who would otherwise be an UFA or RFA as a Franchise Player each season. The team has the option of designating a Franchise player with one of two tags: Exclusive or Non-Exclusive.

A player designated with the Exclusive tag can only negotiate with his prior club (the one that tagged him). The tender associated with this version of the tag is a one year contract that is the minimum of the average of the five largest salaries (as calculated at the end of the free agency signing period) for players at the position at which he played the most games during the prior year, or 120% of his prior year salary, whichever is greater.

A player designated with the Non-Exclusive tag can negotiate a contract with another Club as if he were an UFA; however, Draft Choice Compensation of TWO first round draft selections (or some other mutually agreed upon compensation) shall be awarded to the prior club in the event that he signs with the new club. Prior to 2011 the tender for Non-Exclusive Franchise Player the tender was a one-year contract that was the minimum of the average of the five largest PRIOR-YEAR salaries for players at the position at which he played the most games in the prior year, or 120% of his prior year salary, whichever is greater. Starting in 2011 (with the latest CBA), the tenders were redefined in a more convoluted fashion. The calculation is as follows:
  • A = Total sum of the salary cap for the previous five prior years. In this case 2012-2016.
  • B = Sum of the franchise tags at each position over the same five-year period.
  • C = B (for each position) divided by A. This represents the relative cap percentage for the franchise tag by position.
  • For each position, the tender is the respective percentage for that position (as calculated for C above) multiplied by the salary cap for the given year.
Make sense?

According to Pro Football Talk, the anticipated percentages by percentage for 2017 are as follows:

Quarterback: 12.735 percent.
Defensive end: 10.14 percent.
Receiver: 9.39 percent.
Linebacker: 8.712 percent.
Offensive line: 8.546 percent.
Cornerback: 8.51 percent.
Defensive tackle: 8.016 percent.
Running back: 7.257 percent.
Safety: 6.524 percent.
Tight end: 5.856 percent.
Kicker-punter: 2.895 percent.

The base salary cap for for each team is $167 M for 2017.

Then the base Franchise Tenders for Non-Exclusive Rights players by position would be:

Quarterback: $21.268 M.
Defensive end: $16.934 M.
Receiver: $15.682 M
Linebacker: $14.550 M.
Offensive line: $14.271 M.
Cornerback: $14.212 M.
Defensive tackle: $13.387 M.
Running back: $12.120 M.
Safety: $10.896 M.
Tight end: $9.780 M.
Kicker-punter: $4.835 M.

We cannot estimate the Exclusive tag numbers with much accuracy, since the free agency period has not closed (or even begun as of this writing) for 2017. Still, to help navigate the landscape, I have provided the top five salaries for each player by position -- along with the respective averages -- heading into 2017 to provide a starting point. It is interesting to compare these numbers to the ones calculated above for the Non Exclusive tenders. In case you are wondering, the CBA does have a provision stipulating that the Exclusive tag CANNOT be less than the Non-Exclusive tag for the respective position. So, remember that as we look at these calculations below.

Quarterbacks: $23.8 million

Calculation based on the following QBs, who rank top 5 in total 2017 compensation:
Tony Romo: $24.7
Joe Flacco: $24.55
Carson Palmer: $24.125
Matt Ryan: $23.750
Matt Stafford: $22M

This figure could be very different by the time the smoke settles. Romo is likely to be released and sign a brand new deal with another team. In the unlikely event that he stays with the Cowboys, he will almost certainly have to renegotiate his existing contract. Meanwhile, Ryan and Stafford are both seeking new deals as their existing contracts are winding down. Remember also the 120% rule for players being re-tagged. So, Kirk Cousins, who made $19.953 M under the tag last season, will actually get a bit more (about $23.94 M) this year.

Running backs: $9.6 million*

Calculation based on the following RBs, who rank top 5 in total 2017 compensation:
Adrian Peterson: $18 M
LeSean McCoy: $8.875 M
Jonathan Stewart: $8.25 M
Lamar Miller: $6.5 M
DeMarco Murray: $6.25 M

This number is moot since it is less than the calculation associated with the Non-Exclusive tender, which is likely to be north of $12 M. Ironically, this calculated value (again moot) would probably be even less -- as Adrian Peterson at his age and recent injury history cannot be realistically expected to play for the Vikings in 2017 with a $18 M cap hit. Note the major (almost $10 M) gap between him and the next highest-paid running back (LeSean McCoy). There have been rumors that the Bills could look to rid themselves of McCoy's contract, but I do not see that happening. One would also have to wonder whether the Panthers would be content to have Jonathan Stewart play for them this season with the top 3 cap hit at the position.

Wide receivers: $15.1 million*

Calculation based on the following WRs, who rank top 5 in total 2017 compensation:
Dez Bryant: $17 M
Larry Fitzgerald: $15.85 M
Tavon Austin: $14.977 M
Julio Jones: $13.9 M
Antonio Brown: $13.618 M

Look for this number to move up a bit as the Non-Exclusive calculation right now is a bit higher. Also, Antonio Brown is reportedly looking for an extension, which may increase the number a bit as well. This is one position where the top money-makers are close in line with the top performers. The glaring exception, of course, is Tavon Austin. There is no way we can imagine that he will play for the Rams this season with such a ridiculous cap number. But, it's the Rams we are talking about -- so who knows?

Tight ends: $9.9 million

Calculation based on the following TEs, who rank top 5 in total 2017 compensation:
Jason Witten: $12.262
Greg Olsen: $10.35 M
Jimmy Graham: $10 M
Charles Clay: $9 M
Dennis Pita: $7.7 M

The franchise tag for the TE position is not especially outlandish. That said, the list of guys comprising the top 5 really is interesting. More interesting is the guys NOT on that list. The notable omission, of course, is Rob Gronkowski. For the record, Gronk's cap hit for 2017 is a manageable $6.75 M, which ranks 9th at the TE position. Meanwhile, Jordan Reed and Zach Ertz -- both of whom could be eying long-term extensions -- are bargains at under $6M each. Regarding the guys on the list... Witten is certainly past his prime, but proved once again how valuable he is to the team in 2016. Charles Clay was largely invisible for much of the 2016 season, so it would not be a big surprise if the Bills approach him about restructuring or possibly even release him.

Offensive linemen: $13.4 million*

Calculation based on the following OL, who rank top 5 in total 2017 compensation:
Trent Williams: $15.1375
Cordy Glenn: $14.20
Kelechi Osmele: $13.2 M
Anthony Castonzo: $12.8 M
Joe Thomas: $11.5 M

Note that is is about $1 M less than the Non-Exclusive number, so expect the number calculated here to swell. One of the most maddening things about the franchise tag is the fact that it bundles all offensive linemen into a single category. That means the same price tag is associated with an offensive tackle, guard or center. Virtually all the highest paid linemen in the NFL (including most of those in our top 5) are left tackles. Long story short: it is hard to imagine a team using the franchise tag on a center or guard given these parameters.

Defensive ends: $14.7 million*

Calculation based on the following DEs, who rank top 5 in total 2017 compensation:
Muhammad Wilkerson: $18 M
Olivier Vernon: $16 M
JJ Watt: $14.5 M
Ezekiel Ansah: $12.734 M
Cameron Jordan: $12.047 M

Again, look for this number to move north as the Non-Exclusive number is currently calculated at $17 M. The Jets are mired in something resembling (but what they refuse to admit is) a rebuild. We have already seen the release of Nick Mangold, for example. They are reportedly trying to trade Sheldon Richardson, which likely means that Wilkerson, who was a contract distraction last season before inking a 5-year deal, is likely to maintain the DE league-high $18 M cap hit.

Defensive tackles: $15.3 million

Calculation based on the following DTs, who rank top 5 in total 2017 compensation:
Ndamukong Suh: $19.1 M
Marcell Dareus: $17 M
Malik Jackson $15.5 M
Gerald McCoy: $13.75 M
Michael Brockers: $11 M

Much like the WR position, the top five is mostly a stellar list. It looks like the Bills may be second-guessing the construction of Marcell Dareus' contract. Dareus has been a distraction with off-field issues and under-performed in 2016, but his existing contract makes it virtually impossible for the team to cut/trade him given the cap hit it would take to do so.

Linebackers: $16.6 million

Calculation based on the following LBs, who rank top 5 in total 2017 compensation:
Justin Houston: $22.1 M
Von Miller: $20.4 M
Clay Matthews: $15.07 M
Luke Kuechly: $12.76 M
Sean Lee: $12.4 M

The calculation of the franchise tag does not differentiate between inside or outside backers. Interesting to note is that Luke Kuechly is the only inside backer on this list. Even more interesting is that this decidedly non-glamorous position is now second to only the QB position in terms of the top salaries at the top.

Cornerbacks: $15.7 million

Calculation based on the following CBs, who rank top 5 in total 2017 compensation:
Josh Norman: $20 M
Darrelle Revis: $15.3 M
Janoris Jenkins: $15 M
Joe Haden: $14.4 M
Patrick Peterson: $13.707 M

Again, given the Jets' forecast for 2017, we have to wonder about Revis' fate. For years corners have been breaking the bank -- to the point where even decent ones know that they can cash in with their 2nd contract. The biggest name on the market now would be Stephon Gilmore, who will be looking for a $15 M per year payday. Even if the Bills can't/won't give him what he wants, he knows some team will.

Safety: $9.9 million*

Calculation based on the following Safeties, who rank top 5 in total 2017 compensation:
Jairus Byrd: $11.7 M
Devin McCourty: $10.935 M
Earl Thomas: $10.4 M
Mike Mitchell: $8.135 M
Tyrann Mathieu: $8.1 M

There is not much in the way of consistency in how the league calculates the tag for some of these positions. Offensive linemen and linebackers are bundled together -- whereas, defensive linemen (ends and tackles) and defensive backs (corners and safeties) are not. For defensive line, that is not a big deal because the top ends and tackles make roughly the same dinero. However, safeties versus corners is a different story, as the safety position remains one of the more neglected ones in the game as evidenced by the relatively low (considering) tag. The just-under $10 M number will change given that the Non-exclusive number is about $1 M more. Also, it sounds like the Chiefs and Eric Berry are close on a deal, so that will likely change the layout of this list (as will the likely cutting of Byrd).

Kickers and punters: $4.6 million*

Calculation based on the following kickers, who rank top 5 in total 2017 compensation:
Dustin Colquitt: $4.9 M
Thomas Morestead: $4.7 M
Stephen Gostkowski: $4.5 M
Sebastian Ganikowski: $4.41 M
Matt Prater: $4.325 M

The cap calculation for kickers is the least fluid of all positions: the best ones all make $4-$5 M per year. It is easy to see why both the Exclusive and the Non-Exclusive are also in this same ballpark.

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