The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made use of the franchise tags in each of the past two years, marking the first time the team had ever done so in consecutive seasons. Will they make it three in a row? The answer will come within the next 13 days.
The two-week window for NFL teams to use their 2022 franchise or transition tags opened on Tuesday and will end eight days before the start of free agency, on March 8. Tampa Bay used its franchise tag on outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett in 2020 and later came to a long-term deal with Barrett after that season, which ended in victory in Super Bowl LV. Last year, the Buccaneers used the tag to retain wide receiver Chris Godwin.
In both cases, the tags helped the Buccaneers manage a long list of pending unrestricted free agents and keep the core of a prime contender intact. The team is facing the same issue as the 2022 league year approaches, with a total of 23 players from the 2021 roster who would become unrestricted free agents (UFAs) on March 16 in the absence of new deals.
(Here are the NFL'skey offseason datesfor the upcoming weeks leading up to the 2022 draft. Here is the Buccaneers' list of pending free agents.)
Godwin is on that list of 23 potential UFAs, as are such 2021 starters as cornerback Carlton Davis, safety Jordan Whitehead, DL Will Gholston and Ndamukong Suh, RB Leonard Fournette, TE Rob Gronkowski and a two of the team's five starting offensive linemen, Ryan Jensen and Alex Cappa.
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 a transition tag in any given season, not both.
If Tampa Bay does utilize a franchise or transition tag this year, it will mark the seventh time they have done so. The previous five were Godwin, 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 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 in 2020. Godwin signed his tag on March 18 of last year, nine days after it was extended.
The one-year salary associated with the exclusive franchise tag is based on the average of the top five salaries at a player's position in that current year. The non-exclusive tag is based on the average of the top five salaries over the last five seasons combined. However, if a player is tagged for a second consecutive year he must be offered 120% of his previous salary, as would be the case if the Buccaneers go that route with Godwin again.