The franchise tag, the NFL’s secret weapon

    A way for an organization to save money, not for a player to get a better deal

    More stories from Parker Reed


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    Advertised as a way to help small-market teams, it is largely used as a way to hold onto a player teams don’t want to pay up for.

    You only get one per year, so you had better make it count.

    The franchises in the National Football League (NFL) keep that saying near and dear to their hearts every year after the Super Bowl has wrapped up when it comes to their franchise tag options.

    The franchise tag is a designation a team may apply to a player scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent (free to sign a new contract with any willing team) due to a clause in their contract. It allows the team to place a hold on one player (usually a star player) so they cannot leave the team for another year. The 32 teams that make up the NFL felt this was necessary to keep major players in small markets, but it is secretly for another purpose.

    Money dominates nearly every aspect of professional sports. It allows teams to spend ungodly amounts of money on star talent, enhance their facilities and market their team everywhere, from the jumbotron in the stadium, to an 8-by-10 space on the wall above a urinal in a small- town gas station.

    An often-overlooked aspect of the franchise tag is it allows teams to sign a star player for the most amount of money at their given position. In the case of tight ends, this often limits their earning potential and keeps TE costs around the league to a minimum. This turns the franchise tag into a way to regulate salary instead of actually holding onto prized pieces of an organization.

    On the other side of the coin, the tag has the potential to give the two parties time to continue to negotiate a fair deal. Although too often, the time runs down too quickly on a player and an organization when they are negotiating a new and complicated contract, so applying the franchise tag can sometimes be a benefit to both sides. However, it has not been utilized much in such a way since it was introduced in 2007.

    Among the first class of players to have the franchise tag applied to them in 2007 were linebacker from the Chicago Bears, Lance Briggs, and defensive end from the Indianapolis Colts, Dwight Freeny. Both of these players were at the peak of their careers at the time, and the franchise tag damaged their earning potential for their careers as a whole, by keeping them locked in at a relatively low salary for their ability level.

    This trend continues to the present era, as players like Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell seek better deals from their teams. Their teams do not believe they are worth the extra money (at least not yet), so their franchise tag is applied to them to keep them in the organization another hollow year.

    In the case of Cousins, this is the second straight year he has had the franchise tag applied to him, and the Redskins are continuing to drag their feet in reference to giving him the contract he believes he deserves. For this reason, Cousins is heavily considering leaving as soon as possible to hear the San Francisco 49ers offense.

    Franchise tagging a player can be used in a beneficial way for both parties. It could be used primarily to allow both the player and the organization more time to negotiate a tedious contract. However, it is instead being used to restrict star players from achieving their full earning potential and joining an organization that is either more competitive or is not solely conscious of saving a few extra dollars.

    If the NFL wants to preserve the excitement associated with the free agent market, the franchise tag needs to be eliminated as fast as it was implemented.