The deadline to apply the franchise tag for the 2017 season is Wednesday, March 1st at 3:00 PM CST. As with most deadlines the franchise tag is usually announced at the very last minute so expect a lot of news about who is getting tagged and who isn't over the next 48 hours. It is really the first domino to fall in the free agency process.
So what exactly is the franchise tag? It's a provision in the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement that was originally meant to help small market teams retain their star players and keep them from flocking to big market teams once their contracts expire. However, in reality it has turned out to be used more as negotiating leverage for teams to use as they try to sign their stars to long term deals. Players do not want to be franchise tagged because it offers no long term security for them and you will often see them threaten to hold out to try to keep the team from using the tag as Eric Berry recently said he would do.
Each team can elect to apply the exclusive rights franchise tag (the most popular version of the tag) to one player on an expiring contract each offseason. If a player is tagged he is bound to that team and unable to negotiate with other teams. Players who are tagged will receive a salary (and cap hit for the team) in the amount of the average salary of the top 5 players at his position in the NFL or 120% of his previous salary, whichever is higher. That contract does not officially lock in until July 15th so there is a window from March 1st to July 15th where the tagged player and the team can continue to negotiate a long term contract. During that window the team can choose to rescind its tag at any time making the player suddenly a free agent. This is rare but it did happen with Josh Norman last offseason so it is at least something to be aware of.
There is also a non-exclusive rights version of the franchise tag which allows the player to negotiate with other teams. If another team reaches an agreement with the tagged player, his previous team has 5 days to match the offer on the table or allow the player to walk and receive 2 1st round picks from the team who is signing him as compensation. This is extremely rare for obvious reasons. The other version is the transition tag which allows the player to negotiate with other teams similar to the non-exclusive rights franchise tag. The previous team also retains the right to match any deal the player signs with another team, but would not forfeit any draft picks if they choose to do so. The other benefit of the transition tag is that the player's salary is based on the average of the top 10 players at his position instead of the top 5. These two tags are extremely rare though.
The projected exclusive rights franchise tag amounts for each position are as follows per Joel Corry of CBS Sports:
Quarterbacks: $21.395 million
Running backs: $12.377 million
Wide receivers: $15.826 million
Tight ends: $9.894 million
Offensive linemen: $14.444 million
Defensive tackles: $13.468 million
Defensive ends: $16.955 million
Linebackers: $14.754 million
Cornerbacks: $14.297 million
Safeties: $10.961 million
Kickers/Punters: $4.863 million
This is where a players position label can earn or cost them millions of dollars. You may remember the Jimmy Graham controversy from few years ago when he argued that he should be classified as a wide receiver for franchise tag purposes since he lined up as a wide receiver on two-thirds of his offensive snaps. The NFL eventually ruled against Graham and classified him as a tight end.
The Titans won't be using the franchise tag this year. In fact they haven't used it since tagging Michael Griffin back in 2012, but there are several potential free agent targets that the Titans may be interested in who could get tagged by their current teams.
Eric Berry, S, KC
Berry is the biggest potential free agent that could hit the market. However, as Jimmy shared earlier today the Chiefs are expected to use the franchise tag on Berry despite his threats to sit out the season.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, CHI
Jeffery has been a popular free agent projection for the Titans from national media members this offseason. I don’t think he's a great fit here despite his great on field abilities due to reasons I broke down here. It does sound like he is going to hit the market though as the Bears are not expected to tag him.
#Bears are not expected to franchise Alshon Jeffery again at > $17M, sources say. A top WR on the market will generate lots of buzz in Indy— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 27, 2017
Terrelle Pryor, WR, CLE
Pryor is reportedly not going to get franchise tagged which seems like a massive upset to me. After Jamie Collins got his extension earlier this offseason, I figured it would be a lock that Pryor would get the franchise tag if the Browns couldn’t come to an agreement on a long term extension before the deadline. After all, cap space is not an issue for the Browns, they seem to love Pryor, and his skill set will probably earn him big dollars on the open market anyway. Look for Philadelphia to make a big play for Pryor if he does, in fact, hit the market. Pryor is from Pennsylvania and the Eagles desperately need receiver help (LOLZ @ DGB).
Browns don't plan to franchise tag Terrelle Pryor https://t.co/YS1T6H81t7— numberFire NFL (@numberFire_NFL) February 19, 2017
Trumaine Johnson, CB, LAR
Johnson is one of the top corners that could hit the market. I like his skill set a lot and think he could be a great playmaker in the secondary. Early reports were that he would be allowed to leave. It seems unlikely that the Rams would use the tag on him because his cap number would be about $17M since he played on the tag last season.
Heard for a while #Rams will let "Fisher guys" (WR Kenny Britt & CB Trumaine Johnson) hit free agency. Curious if McVay/Phillips change that— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) January 14, 2017
A.J. Bouye, CB, HOU
Bouye is my favorite cornerback that could hit the market for the Titans. The Texans are reportedly not going to use the franchise tag on Bouye.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, BUF
Gilmore is looking for top 5 cornerback money and the Bills don’t seem interested in making that kind of offer. Gilmore is very talented, but I have concerns about his attitude and effort. If I’m paying top 5 cornerback money, I would rather have Bouye or Johnson. It does sound like the Bills are going to let Gilmore hit the market.
Dont’a Hightower, ILB, NE
Hightower is one of the best 3-4 inside linebackers in the NFL. ESPN’s Mike Reiss, who is as plugged in to the Patriots as anyone, thinks the Patriots may decide to use the transition tag on Hightower as a method of keeping some control over his free agency. Hightower is another guy, like Logan Ryan, who was drafted during Titans GM Jon Robinson’s term as Director of College Scouting in New England and seems likely to at least garner a phone call from J-Rob if they hit the market.
Brandon Williams, NT, BAL
Dontari Poe, NT, KC
Poe’s situation is tied to Eric Berry. If the Chiefs choose to franchise tag Berry, as it is currently being reported that they will, it means Poe will hit the open market. It also means that it will be highly unlikely that the Chiefs could afford to re-sign Poe. While most Titans fans have been pining for Berry, myself included, but Poe could be a good consolation prize. He is a massive man at 6’-3” 346 lbs and he moves really well. He is one of the better pass rushing nose tackles you will see. The big drawback for him is recent back injuries, but that won’t keep him from getting big money from somebody.
Other free agents that are likely to get tagged include Kirk Cousins, Le’Veon Bell, Chandler Jones, Kawann Short, Melvin Ingram, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Nick Perry. Those guys are all less likely to be on the Titans’ short list of free agent targets.