The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have two weeks to decide if they want to utilize a franchise or transition tag for the second year in a row. That would be a first for the franchise, which hadn't used that option for the previous seven seasons before putting a tag on outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett in 2020. However, it likely will be a consideration given the long list of prominent free agents the defending Super Bowl champions must confront.
The two-week window for NFL teams to use their franchise tags opened on Tuesday and will end eight days before the start of free agency, on March 9. A year ago, the Buccaneers waited until the very end of that window (which was eventually extended by almost a week while the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was hammered out) to use the option on Barrett.
(Here are the NFL's key offseason dates through the 2021 NFL draft.)
The Buccaneers are in a similar position as they were in 2020, when the tag on Barrett helped them turn their attention to re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh and pursuing Tom Brady. This time, the potential free agents the team hopes to retain include Barrett, Suh, Lavonte David, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown and Leonard Fournette.
Barrett is on the list again because he and the Buccaneers did not come to an agreement on a long-term deal last offseason, in part due to the difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and he eventually signed the one-year tender offer for 2020. The Buccaneers can use the tag on Barrett for a second straight year but the offer will have to increase by 120%.
If Tampa Bay does utilize a franchise or transition tag this year, it will mark the sixth time they have done so. The previous five were Barrett, tackle Paul Gruber in 1993, defensive end Chidi Ahanotu in 1999, wide receiver Antonio Bryant in 2009 and kicker Connor Barth in 2012.
The franchise tag, which came into existence with the first collective bargaining agreement in 1993, 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 also 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.
The use of a franchise tag does not have to end long-term contract negotiations between a team and the tagged player. In fact, those negotiations can continue until mid-July; after the deadline, the player can only sign the one-year tender offer, which is what Barrett did last summer. However, after tagging Barth in 2012, the two sides came to agreement on a multi-year deal in the middle of May.
The Buccaneers have 24 players from the roster that won Super Bowl LV who are due to become unrestricted free agents. With quarterback Tom Brady under contract for 2021 and planning to return for at least one more season, the Buccaneers hope to keep the core of their 2020 team intact in order to mount a spirited title defense. Shortly after the Super Bowl, Head Coach Bruce Arians said he was "very, very confident" the Buccaneers could do so. For the second year in a row, it may take a franchise tag to complete the mission.