An important note on franchise tags

While we have a moment, let's clarify an important part of last week's discussion about Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte and the possible application of a future franchise tag.

As we noted, Forte would earn about $7.7 million if the Bears make him their franchise player in 2012. But along with many others, I wasn't fully informed about how the NFL has arrived at that figure.

As ESPN analyst Andrew Brandt explained for the National Football Post, the league's new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) changed the fundamentals of the franchise tag. It's no longer the average of the five highest-paid players at the position. Instead, it's the average of the highest-paid player at the position in each of the last five years.

Because it reaches back to dated salary figures, the new formula has actually pulled down franchise tag numbers significantly and made it even less attractive for players. For example, the estimated $7.7 million franchise number for running backs in 2012 is about 19 percent less than the 2011 number.

As Brandt notes, this change could also impact the Green Bay Packers' upcoming negotiations with tight end Jermichael Finley. The 2012 franchise tag number for tight ends is estimated between $5.4 million and $5.6 million, about 27 percent less than the 2011 number of $7.3 million. Finley at $7.3 million sounded doable, but $5.6 million sounds like a relative slam dunk.

Generally speaking, the franchise tag is a bigger advantage for NFL teams than ever. Elite players can be locked up for substantially less than before, and the lower numbers will give teams a new tool to prevent departures from good players who wouldn't otherwise have been considered candidates for a high guaranteed salary.