It’s a very strange off-season this year in the NFL. If the owners and the NFLPA do not come together on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, there are many different things which will be different in 2020 when it comes to player contracts and negotiating the salary cap. With the “30% rule” affecting contract extensions, renegotiation, and structures of new deals, the Steelers are already in a tough position to work their usual magic when it comes to finding money with the salary cap. But there are also other rules which can change how many NFL teams to business this off-season.
In a typical year, NFL teams have the option to use either the franchise tag (exclusive or non-exclusive) or the transition tag to try to retain a player who is set to become an unrestricted free agent. But for the final year of the current CBA, teams are allowed to use both.
As a quick reminder, the franchise tag can be used on a player to where they can only work out a deal exclusively with their current franchise. Teams can use the non-exclusive franchise tag where the player may negotiate a deal with another team but the original franchise has the option to match the offer or to let the player go with two first-round draft picks as compensation. The transition tag comes at a smaller value at each position, but differs in where the team would still have the right of first refusal but would not be compensated with draft picks if they do not match the offer.
In the final league year of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it states teams can use the transition tag along with the franchise tag. It is listed in article 10 section 3.
Section 3. Transition Player Designations:
(a) Each Club shall be permitted to designate one player who would otherwise be an Unrestricted Free Agent as a Transition Player in the Final League Year. In addition, in each League Year during the term of this Agreement, each Club shall be permitted to designate one player who would otherwise be an Unrestricted Free Agent or Restricted Free Agent as a Transition Player in lieu of designating a Franchise Player, if such Franchise Player designation is available to such Club, in addition to the Transition Player designation permitted by the immediately preceding sentence, during the same designation period as the Franchise Player designation period.
While this is a very interesting option for teams this off-season, the expense of using the tags is something many teams such as the Steelers are not realistically in the place to exercise this option. Using the Steelers as an example, if they decided they wanted to keep both Bud Dupree and Javon Hargrave for the 2020 season by utilizing both tags, it would cost over $28 million. If the Steelers were to franchise Dupree at just over an estimated $16 million and use the transition tag on Hargrave, it would run slightly over $12 million for a defensive tackle. If the Steelers would choose to go the other route, Dupree would cost $14 million under a transition tag while Hargrave would be $15.5 million using the franchise tag.
In all honesty, it would be a difficult scenario for the Steelers to use even one of the tags, let alone both. When teams use either of the tags, they must have the room under the salary cap at the moment the tag is issued. With the 30% rule inhibiting their ability to save space with restructuring contracts, the best way the Steelers can get any kind of cap relief is by cutting current players on their roster.
Teams have until March 10 at 4 PM ET to designate their tagged players. It would take an awful lot of work for the Steelers to use one tag, so don’t look for them to use a second one. But even though it might not affect the Steelers, if you see an NFL team using both the franchise and transition tag, hopefully now you understand why.