NFL teams will be allowed to place the franchise tag on one pending free agent up until Tuesday's 3 p.m. deadline.
Teams often wait until the final minute to tag players, using that time to negotiate with the player’s agent, who is also trying to gauge the player’s market before the beginning of free agency.
The Chiefs — who have used the franchise tag in four of the last five years — have five key free agents who are set to hit the open market when free agency begins on March 4.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the different tags they will have at their disposal, plus some analysis from former agent and salary cap expert Joel Corry on whether it makes sense for the Chiefs, who currently have about $30 million in cap room, he says, to tag any of their key pending free agents.
Types of tags
1. Exclusive franchise tag: A player who receivers this tag will be tendered the average of the top five salaries at his position, or 120 percent of his 2015 salary — whichever is greater. Players dislike this tag because they are not allowed to negotiate with other teams, which can greatly restrict their ability to maximize their value. It’s also rare for a non-quarterback to receive it; the last player so designated was Oakland defensive end Richard Seymour in 2010.
2. Non-exclusive franchise tag: This tag is often worth slightly less than the exclusive tag, and it allows the player to negotiate with other teams. The Chiefs, if they use this tag, would have the option to match any deal the player signs on the market. If they chose not to match, they would receive an appealing haul — two first-round picks. That’s the reason this is the most used tag, though other teams rarely choose to surrender two premium picks.
3. Transition tag: A player who receives this tag will be tendered the average of the top 10 salaries at the position. If the Chiefs were to use this tag, they would be allowed to match any offer the player signs on the open market. If they chose not to match, they would receive nothing.
Two important things to remember: first, a team can only use the franchise tag once per offseason. For instance, if the Chiefs were to use the exclusive franchise tag on safety Eric Berry this year, they could not use any of the other tags on any other players this offseason.
Also, if the Chiefs do tag a player, their salary will immediately count against their 2016 cap space, even if the player does not sign it until the July 15 deadline (as players are often wont to do).
Here, based on Corry’s projections, are five Chiefs players who could see a tag this offseason:
Free safety Eric Berry, age 27 (franchise tag $10.806 million, transition tag $9.116 million): Corry does not consider a transition tag to be a reasonable option for Berry; that would allow one of the many teams sure to be interested in his services to sign him to a uniquely crafted deal that would be difficult for the Chiefs to match. But Corry does think a non-exclusive tag might make sense. That way, if some other team wanted Berry badly enough, it would have to surrender two picks — an unlikely scenario considering no one made an offer to Justin Houston, a 26-year-old pass rusher coming off a historically great season, after he was given the non-exclusive tag last offseason.
Cornerback Sean Smith, age 28 (franchise $13.952 million, transition $11.913 million): Corry said he’d consider using the transition tag on Smith. “You still have right to match, and if it’s too rich for your blood, you let him go and are no worse off,” he said. “He wouldn’t be happy about that, though — this is probably his last chance to get a big payday.” Corry added that using the tag on Smith only makes sense if the Chiefs sign Berry to a long-term pact before the franchise-tag deadline, since teams can only tag one player per offseason. If the Chiefs have to use the tag on Berry, and Smith is allowed to test the market, Corry projects Smith could receive something in the neighborhood of the six-year, $63 million deal Byron Maxwell signed last offseason.
Defensive tackle Jaye Howard, age 27 (franchise $13.615 million, transition $10.875 million): Corry doesn’t think the non-exclusive or transition tags make sense for Howard because of the cost. “He’d make more on tender than he makes on his signing bonus and base salary of a long-term deal this year,” Corry said. Howard would likely sign the franchise tender immediately, Corry noted, in which case it would become a binding one-year contract for $10 million-plus — which would be the fourth-most on the team this year.
Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, age 33 (franchise $14.129 million, transition $11.925 million): Corry said it doesn’t make much sense to use these expensive tags on an older linebacker. Like Howard, Johnson would probably sign the tender immediately and rake in an exorbitant 2016 salary for a guy at his position.
Outside linebacker Tamba Hali, age 32 (franchise $14.129 million, transition $11.925 million): Again, Corry said it simply doesn’t make much sense to use a tag on an older linebacker. For the record, Johnson and Hali both play different positions, but the linebacker tag is the same for inside and outside players.
Chiefs’ tag history
Finally, here’s the complete history of the Chiefs and the franchise tag. The Chiefs have used the franchise tag nine times in their history.
2015: Justin Houston, OLB
2013: Branden Albert, LT
2012: Dwayne Bowe, WR
2011: Tamba Hali, OLB
2008: Jared Allen, OLB
202: Tony Gonzalez, TE
2000: Will Shields, G
1998: Dan Williams, DE
1993: Neil Smith, DE