FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Quarterbacks continued to lead the way, as usual, but the defensive end position showed the biggest increase percentage-wise over last season as the NFL Players Association released the 2010 levels for franchise and transition players.
The union disseminated the figures to player agents on Friday and is expected to distribute them to the general media here at their annual pre-Super Bowl news conference next Thursday afternoon.
The franchise number for quarterbacks rose to $16.405 million, the highest tender level of any position. Quarterback also had the highest transition level, at $14.546 million.
To designate a player in the franchise category, a team must make a one-year qualifying offer equal to the average of the top five salaries at the player's position in the previous season or 120 percent of his prior year's salary, whichever is greater. The transition tag is a figure equal to the top 10 salaries at a player's position from the previous season, or 120 percent of his prior year's salary, whichever is greater.
While the quarterback position received the highest franchise and transition levels, as it normally does, defensive end registered the biggest increases in both categories. The defensive end level rose from $8.991 million in 2009 to 12.398 million in 2010, a jump of 38 percent. Among transition levels, the tag jumped from $7.777 million in 2009 to $10.193 million in 2010, an increase of 31.1 percent.
Those represented the largest increases, percent-wise, of any position in the categories.
Among franchise players, tight end (32.4), offensive lineman (30.0) and running back (23.4) had the next biggest percentage jumps. The next biggest gainers in the transition category were tight ends (29.1 percent) and running backs (20.7 percent).
The positions that declined among franchise players were cornerbacks (minus-3.9 percent) and wide receivers (minus-3.1 percent). The only position to decrease for transition players was cornerback (minus-3.8 percent).
Players who receive the franchise or transition tags can accept the one-year qualifying tender from their clubs, but may also negotiate long-term contracts.
Franchise players can negotiate with other teams. But if they sign an offer with another team, and their original club does not match it, the signing team must compensate the original club with a pair of first-round draft choices. A transition player is also free to negotiate with other teams. But if his original club declines to match an offer sheet from another team, it receives no compensation.
Because of the exorbitant compensation levels involved, two first-rounders, franchise designees rarely change teams.
There is also another level of franchise player, an "exclusive" franchise tag, that is rarely employed. If a player is tagged as an "exclusive" franchise player, he cannot negotiate with other teams. He receives compensation commensurate to an average of the top five players at his position based on the new levels in mid-spring, instead of the previous year. The Oakland Raiders employed the "exclusive" franchise tag for star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha last spring.
If 2010 is an "uncapped" season, as expected, teams will have both a franchise and a transition tag at their disposal. It remains to be seen if that increases the number of tags employed overall. Many teams have already said that if 2010 is an "uncapped" season, they will conduct business as usual as it applies to their payrolls.
The franchise levels for 2010 are: $16.405 million for quarterbacks; $8.156 million for running backs; $9.521 million for wide receivers; $5.908 million for tight ends; $10.731 million for offensive linemen; $12.398 million for defensive ends; $7.003 million for defensive tackles; $9.680 million for linebackers; $6.455 million for safeties; $9.566 million for cornerbacks; and $2.814 million for punters and kickers.
For transition players they are: $14.546 million for quarterbacks; $7.151 million for running backs; $8.651 million for wide receivers; $5.248 million for tight ends; $9.142 million for offensive linemen; $10.193 million for defensive ends; $6.353 million for defensive tackles; $8.673 million for linebackers; $6.011 million for safeties; $8.056 million for cornerbacks; and $2.629 million for punters and kickers.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.