With the 2020 offseason underway, a lot of NFL coverage will have to do with free agents, potential free agents, and franchise tags. To those well-initiated in the NFL’s lingo, these labels seem as clear as “quarterback,” but to casual observers, they are foreign concepts.
Let’s look into several key terms that will define the NFL offseason. We’ll also discuss what to expect as free agents sign contracts and earn more money.
What is an unrestricted NFL free agent?
When one thinks of a free agent, they typically think of somebody who’s ended his contract with a current team and is free to go to another team that wants to sign him. In a nutshell, this defines an unrestricted free agent.
Unrestricted free agents have at least four years of experience with expired contracts; they have 100% freedom to explore the market. With unrestricted free agents, even the team who had the player last must compete with the other NFL franchises to secure the athlete’s next contract.
One notable unrestricted free agent is Tom Brady. Although Brady is synonymous with the Patriots’ success over the past two decades, he’ll enter this free agency period with all of the leverage, assuming that New England wants to keep him.
The 42-year-old can explore his options and pressure his team to offer a deal that’s competitive, if not outright better than the Raiders, Chargers, Cowboys, or whichever team will likely pursue the NFL’s oldest superstar within the confines of the league’s salary cap.
What is a restricted free agent?
Restricted free agents operate a little bit differently than unrestricted free agents. The latter don’t have to worry about their former team interfering with a potential contract. Restricted free agents, however, have another potential hurdle in their former teams, according to SB Nation.
Restricted free agents have three or fewer NFL seasons under their belt, and their former teams have the right to match any offer they get. Teams place a tender on restricted free agents before the player negotiates with other franchises. If the player signs elsewhere, the team can either match or decline the offer. The latter means the team will get the tendered draft pick.
Dak Prescott is the most notable restricted free agent of the 2020 offseason. The Cowboys will likely match any offer he receives. However, if the number gets too high, it’ll put pressure on the team he’s played for until now. With Prescott reportedly searching for a record-setting deal, he can test the restricted market in a way few have done.
What is a franchise tag?
A franchise tag is a leveraging tool that teams love and players hate. On its surface, the franchise tag helps manage the salary cap and lets teams do what they deem necessary to stay beneath it. However, the franchise tag can also force a player to accept less money to play on a team he wants to leave for one additional year, bypassing free agency. Each team gets one franchise tag a year.
The franchise tag comes in three forms, according to Bleacher Report. First, a non-exclusive tag allows other teams to offer a player a long-term deal. But it also gives the team who tagged the player the right to either match the offer or receive two first-round picks.
Second, and most expensive, is the exclusive tag. Although it’s most lucrative for a player, it also forces even the most disgruntled athlete to stick with a team or not play at all. Finally, the transition tag is the cheapest. It allows the team to match any offer, but they don’t get compensation if they let a player walk.
The franchise tag can occasionally backfire. The Pittsburgh Steelers saw this with Le’Veon Bell after tagging him for two straight years. Bell didn’t show up, and while the Steelers could have tagged him again, they decided against it. Bell went to the New York Jets.
In 2020, the franchise tag could net quarterbacks as much as $26.9 million for an exclusive or non-exclusive tag and $24.3M for a transition tag.
These values go down to $15-$20 million on franchise tags as well as for defensive ends, wide receivers, linebackers, cornerbacks, defensive tackles, and offensive linemen. Running backs get $10-$12 million depending on the tag, while tight ends get anywhere from $9-$11 million.
These terms may seem complicated, but they help the cap operate. Perfect or imperfect, without tags and titles, the offseason would be more chaotic for players and teams alike.
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