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As Deadline to Sign Passes, Here's a Look at Performance Under the Franchise Tag

The deadline for players who have received a franchise tag to sign a multi-year extension is 4 p.m. ET on July 15. Once the deadline has passed, these players cannot negotiate with their current team until after the 2021 season. In the recent past, about half of the franchised players ended up signing a new deal before this annual deadline.

Ten players received the franchise tag this year and four of them – Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, Giants DL Leonard Williams, Broncos S Justin Simmons and Panthers OL Taylor Moton – have since signed new deals. It appears the other six will all play in 2021 under the franchise tender. They are:

  • Chris Godwin, WR, Buccaneers
  • Marcus Maye, S, Jets
  • Allen Robinson, WR, Bears
  • Cam Robinson, OL, Jaguars
  • Brandon Scherff, G, Football Team
  • Marcus Williams, S, Saints

As the July 15 deadline passes, let’s take a deeper look at the franchise tag and how players have performed in their tag year.

The franchise tag is a tender that is used every offseason, although how much it is used varies from season to season. It gives NFL teams the chance to take a one-year cap hit on a chosen player, while they negotiate a long-term deal with the player. They can also use it to hold onto a player for one more year at the end of his peak play, instead of extending him while his play may decline.

For players, the tag is typically a pay raise based on their previous compensation, and can even be worth more yearly than some long-term deals. The tag essentially is a one-year deal to stay with a player’s current team, though he can choose not to sign -- potentially forcing a deal or trade, or the player can choose to sit out of the season.

In most cases, a franchise tag is not the player’s preference. They likely wanted to come to terms with a long-term deal or go test their worth in free agency. As mentioned earlier, this can become problematic when an aging player at the end of his prime wants to enter free agency but is tagged. After coming off the tag – one year older -- that veteran’s market value is typically on the decline.

Just like spending in free agency, the tag prices are dependent on position. The RB and TE tags are on the cheaper side ($8,655,000 and $9,601,000, respectively), while the QB and WR are much higher ($25,104,000 and $15,983,000, respectively).

According to data from Over The Cap, 99 players have been given the franchise tag over the last 10 offseasons, from 2011-20. The graph shows that 2012 had a total of 21 players tagged, while the 2020 offseason had 15, the most since then. Aside from these two peak years, there are generally somewhere between six and 10 tags given out each year.

While on the tag, player performance obviously varies. Some players are unhappy with their situation because of the inability to reach a long-term deal or agreement on a fair price. This could lead to them playing worse or even sitting out (see: Le’Veon Bell in 2018). Some players had breakout seasons the year prior to being a free agent, and their teams worried their price may rise too high in free agency.

After signing the tag in the offseason, some players regressed to their more common form (Muhammad Wilkerson in 2016). There were also a few players who suffered from injury and had their season cut short because of it. A combination of these instances were the most common outcomes, as just about 60 percent of the franchise-tagged players saw their Approximate Value (AV) decrease once they were on the tag compared to the prior season. On the other hand, players could have needed another year to improve, signed the tag, and performed even better on the tag.

Once signed, there is even more pressure on the players to prove themselves to earn a long-term deal with either their team or a new one. Just like the year prior, players may have played even better to prove their worth, which happened for around 29 percent of franchised players. The other 11 percent didn’t see any change in their AV and performed very similarly in both contract years.

Since most players perform differently and not all teams are in the same cap situations, what happens to the players after the tag also varies. A 58 percent majority of tagged players were able to reach an agreement and sign an extension with their current team. Meanwhile, 27 percent of the players didn’t reach an agreement with their team and signed a new contract in free agency, the second-most-likely outcome. Seven percent of players in the sample did not come to an agreement and instead saw a pay raise by virtue of a second consecutive tag. Four percent of players were traded to new teams once they became disgruntled about not reaching a deal. Three percent signed the transition tag and ended up signing elsewhere during that same offseason. Lastly, only one player, Jason Worilds, retired following his franchise-tagged season.

For this year’s tagged players, the prospect of being tagged a second straight year in 2022 is not the worst possible outcome. With an expected big rise in the cap next year, the 2022 franchise tag could be a nice payday.

There is no guarantee of how being franchise-tagged affects a player, because each is in an entirely different situation regarding the price of their tag, the team that tagged them and how close they are to reaching a deal. More times than not, they were able to reach an extension with their team – though now that the July 15 deadline has passed, those new deals won’t happen until 2022.