In the National Football League (NFL), the franchise tag is a designation a team may apply to a player scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. The tag binds the player to the team for one year if certain conditions are met. Each team only has one franchise tag (of either the exclusive or non-exclusive forms) and one transition tag per year. The transition tag can only be used if the team does not use a franchise tag; however, Article 10 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed in 2011 stipulates that, in the Final League Year, teams are allowed to use both the franchise tag and transition tag for the 2020 NFL season.
Perhaps originally designed to reduce player movement to bigger markets, which is often evidenced in the other major pro sports leagues, the NFL revenue sharing and a hard salary cap have placed teams on an even playing field relative to salaries. The tag options allow NFL franchises an extended bargaining period for a player that they feel is key to their success. Usually reserved for players of great skill or of high importance to the team, a franchise tag allows a team's general manager the privilege of strategically retaining valuable free-agent players while seeking talent through the NFL draft or other acquisitions without exceeding the League's salary cap.
The designated franchise player will have his one-year salary guaranteed if he elects to play for the team that designated him with the franchise tag and if he does not negotiate a contract with another team.
- An "exclusive" franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player's position as of a date in April of the current year in which the tag will apply, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, whichever is greater. Exclusive franchise players cannot negotiate with other teams. The player's team has all the negotiating rights to the exclusive player.
- A "non-exclusive" franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five cap hits at the player's position for the previous five years applied to the current salary cap, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, whichever is greater. A non-exclusive franchise player may negotiate with other NFL teams, but if the player signs an offer sheet from another team, the original team has a right to match the terms of that offer, or if it does not match the offer and thus loses the player, is entitled to receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.
- Under the Capped years a team can designate one additional player only as a transitional tag. A transition player must be offered a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of the prior season at the player's position or 120 percent of the player's prior year's salary, whichever is greater. A transition player designation gives the club a first-refusal right to match within seven days an offer sheet given to the player by another club after his contract expires. If the club matches, it retains the player. If it does not match, it receives no compensation.
- Consecutive franchise tags are allowed; however, for a player to be tagged two straight years, the team must pay 120 percent of the player's previous salary. If it is three-straight years, the team must pay the player 144 percent of his previous salary, or an average of the top 5 salaries at the highest-paid position (likely QB)—whichever is higher.
- "NFL CBA Quirks That Could Have a Big Effect on the 2020 Offseason". ESPN.com. 2019-02-26. Archived from the original on 2020-02-28. Retrieved 2020-02-28.
- Ochab, Charles (March 2007). "Don't Franchise Me! The NFL's Emerging Dilemma". The Illinois Business Law Journal.