If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to use a franchise or transition tag in 2021, they will need to make the decision soon.
The two-week window for NFL teams to apply those tags began on February 23 and will end this Tuesday, March 9, at 4:00 p.m. ET. Eight days later, free agency will began and any player with an expiring contract who is not tagged or re-signed will have an opportunity to hit the open market.
If the Buccaneers do use a franchise tag on one of their pending free agents, it would mark the first time they have done so in consecutive years since the option was introduced with the original CBA in 1993. Last year, a franchise tag helped keep outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, the NFL's reigning sack king at the time, around for a run at the Super Bowl.
Since Barrett eventually signed the one-year tender offer that came with the tag, with no long-term deal reached in the interim, he is once again a pending unrestricted free agent. He could be a candidate for the tag for a second year in a row, although that would come with the hefty spike in the one-year tender offer that comes with being tagged two years in a row. Other potential tag candidates for the Buccaneers include wide receiver Chris Godwin and inside linebacker Lavonte David.
There could even be other tag candidates among the Bucs' 24 potential unrestricted free agents. On March 24, just a day into the tag window, General Manager Jason Licht said the tag was "an option for any one of our players right now," and that the Bucs had not specifically homed in on a likely candidate at that point. With the tag window about to close, the team has probably narrowed it down to a candidate or two by now.
As of early Monday, only one team had already placed a franchise tag on a player, with the Denver Broncos giving that designation to safety Justin Simmons last week. Last year, the Buccaneers did not officially place the tag on Barrett until the day of the deadline, and of course it makes sense for teams to continue negotiations with various players for as long as possible before turning to the tag option.
The franchise tag allows a team to retain exclusive negotiating rights with one pending unrestricted free agent, or set itself up for a significant amount of compensation if that player signs elsewhere. It carries with it a hefty one-year price tag that varies by position. The transition tag is similar but does not include compensation for departing players and carries a somewhat smaller price tag.
There are two varieties of franchise tags, exclusive and non-exclusive. Exclusive tags carry a higher price tag but prohibit the tagged player from negotiating with any other team. Players with non-exclusive tags can negotiate with other teams but if they receive an offer their original team can either match it or receive two first-round draft picks from the signing team in compensation. A team can only use a franchise or transition tag in any given season, not both.