On Monday, one of the major milestones of the NFL offseason will come when teams can begin to use the franchise tag on one player scheduled to enter free agency during the offseason. Teams will have until March 5 to use the tag, keeping the player with the team for one guaranteed season, restricting their ability to test the free agent market.
Placing the franchise tag on a player allows the team to continue to control the rights of the player for one more season. The tagged player's contract will be the average of the top paid player at his position over the last five seasons. These contract requirements are new this season with the new CBA in place. In some cases the amount paid to a franchise-tagged player will be reduced this year, unlike in the past when the player's contract was an average of the top five salaries at the player's position.
Franchise players can choose to play under the terms of the contract, sit out the season or seek a trade to a new team. Should a new team want the player's services they will be required to trade two first round picks to the tagging team for the rights to the franchise tagged player.
With the Falcons facing decisions on 17 free agents this season, the franchise tag is a possibility. There are a number of players at positions traditionally considered high-dollar positions, meaning the price of the franchise tag could be steep. Cornerback and defensive end are two of the highest paid positions in the NFL and the Falcons face decisions with key players from both of those positions.
While the tag allows teams to continue to keep a player on their roster, the price tag is usually high and traditionally players do not prefer to be tagged. It does guarantee a large contract for the entire season, but it doesn't include a signing bonus, one of the key parts of a pending free agent's contract desires. Since franchise tagged players are often players facing free agency, and a potential big payday, the tag is often met with some disappointment.
The franchise tag value for a defensive end in 2012 will be around $10.6 million, down from $13 million in 2011. Cornerbacks also are expected to see a fall, from $13.5 million to around $10.6 million.
The last player the Falcons used the franchise tag on was former punter Michael Koenen prior to the 2009 season.
For the Falcons to consider using the franchise tag on a player this offseason it would likely have to be a value play, meaning the top free agents on the team could still be a bargain at the one-year guaranteed rate.
After the franchise tag designations, the next major step in the offseason is on March 13 when free agency begins.