<
>

Everything you have ever wanted to know about NFL franchise tags

play
Should Chicago use the franchise tag on Jeffery? (0:59)

A look at the numbers shows why the Bears can't afford to let Alshon Jeffery walk. (0:59)

(Note: This story originally published last month. It has been updated where noted.)

We've laughed. We've cried. We've argued. And now it's time to end the comedown from Super Bowl 50. The NFL will turn its full attention this week to 2016 roster building, after all, so we might as well go along with it.

First up: On Tuesday, teams can begin applying the franchise or transition tags. (They will have until 4 p.m. ET on March 1 to make that decision, but a guy can dream, right?)

Below is everything a reasonably well-adjusted person could possibly want to know about the NFL tag system and how tags might affect the 2016 offseason, from projected numbers to likely candidates to historic background data researched at great length by Matt Willis of ESPN Stats & Information. (Great for prop bets!).

There are actually three tags, right?

Ah, yes.

There is an exclusive-rights franchise tag that completely binds the player to his team. His agent is prohibited from seeking an offer sheet.

There is a nonexclusive franchise tag that allows the player to sign an offer sheet with another team. The original team has the right to match the offer or receive two first-round draft picks in compensation if the player leaves.

The transition tag works like the nonexclusive franchise tag, except it only provides the original team the right to match the other team's offer. If the original team decides not to offer a matching bid, it gets no compensation when the player leaves.

Remind me how the tag values are calculated, please and thank you.

The franchise tag value is the average of the top five salaries at a player's position, or 120 percent of a player's previous salary, whichever is greater. The transition tag is worth the average of the top 10 salaries at the player's position.

Why haven't I seen the official tag values yet?

Because the NFL hasn't completed them. (Update: The official values were announced over the weekend and can be viewed through this link. They are very similar to the estimates in this story.)

Part of the calculations include the value of the annual salary cap, which has not yet been determined. So any team considering a tag must look at recent history and make an educated guess what the salary cap will be.

The chart is a version of one estimate making the rounds among NFL teams, which projects the cap at $154 million for 2016. It aligns with a set of projections published in November by former agent Joel Corry for CBSSports.com

Who are the likely candidates?

Some teams are more likely to use the tag system than others, as we'll see in a moment. But with another big cap rise expected this spring, teams know there is a real chance their stars will be pursued by rivals with tens of millions of dollars in cap space to burn.

Remember, it was only a year ago that the Miami Dolphins pounced on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh after the Detroit Lions failed to tag him, signing Suh to a six-year deal worth $114 million.

This year, the most attractive pending free agents -- and thus the likeliest tag candidates -- include:

There is usually a surprise or two in there every year. And if the Broncos sign Miller to a long-term deal before the tag deadline, they might consider a tag on quarterback Brock Osweiler.

What happens next?

Once a player is tagged, the sides have until July 15 to sign a long-term contract or, by NFL rule, the player must go through the 2016 regular season on a one-year deal. Then the sides are back where they started, unless part of the one-year agreement is to not use the tag in 2017.

What usually happens in these situations?

The tag was first instituted in 1993 and has survived many different markets and operating philosophies. The chart shows its history over the last four years.

Half of the 38 players tagged since 2012 have signed long-term deals by the July 15 deadline. The rest either played out the season on the franchise tag or -- as in the case last year of New York Giants defensive Jason Pierre-Paul -- experienced unusual circumstances.

You were saying that some teams use tags more often?

I was. But that could be the result of skill level more than philosophy.

The Indianapolis Colts have used the franchise tag an NFL-high 11 times since 1993, followed by the Seattle Seahawks (10). The New England Patriots, Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs have used it nine times apiece.

On the other hand, the Houston Texans -- who began play in 2002 -- have used it only once. The Atlanta Falcons (two) used it fewer times than any team that was in business in 1993.

How has the rising cap affected franchise tag use?

Between 1993-2013, NFL teams used the tag an average of 9.25 times per offseason. In 2012 alone, it was used 21 times.

But amid quickly rising cap numbers in 2014 and 2015, teams were flush with cap space and were more aggressive in their pursuit of long-term deals, so they were less likely to use the franchise tag to lock players up for just one year. The tag has been used nine times in the past two seasons combined.

Do certain positions get tagged more often?

Why, yes.

Generally speaking, teams tag players with the skill sets that would be most attractive on the open market.

Setting aside quarterbacks, who don't often reach this point in the process, we have seen more offensive linemen (especially pass-protecting tackles) tagged than any other position. Of the 29 offensive linemen tagged since 1993, 23 are tackles.

Next are defensive ends and linebackers, usually pass-rushers, at 25.

There have been only eight quarterbacks tagged in the history of the system, fewer than all positions except punter (four).

Anything else?

Not for today. The quick onset of the offseason can be rough for everyone. We'll get through this together.