If the New York Jets won’t use the franchise tag, why should they care about it?
As the NFL offseason gets off to its usual sleepy start, where speculation is rife and real news scant, an important date on the calendar has arrived.
Starting on February 21 and continuing until March 7, the New York Jets, along with all the other NFL teams, will have the opportunity to place a franchise tag on one pending free agent.
What is the franchise tag? Why does it exist? Will the Jets use it, and if not, why should they still keep an eye on it?
Franchise tag: three types
What’s known colloquially as the franchise tag is actually broken down into three different types of tags. Each tag has somewhat different rules.
- The exclusive rights tag is the most expensive of the three types. A player receiving such a tag cannot negotiate with any other teams. The one-year contract for an exclusive rights tag is the average of the top five salaries of the player’s position for the current year or 120% of the player’s previous salary, whichever is higher. Because of its high price point, this tag has only been used four times since 2012, most recently on Le’Veon Bell in 2017.
- The transition tag gives the player a one-year deal based on the average of the top 10 salaries at the position or 120% of the player’s previous salary, whichever is higher. The player can negotiate with other teams, but the tagging team has the right of first refusal. However, if they do not match the offer, they receive no compensation.
- The non-exclusive tag is the tag that is generally referred to as the “franchise tag.” It’s a one-year contract with a salary based on the average of the top five salaries at the position over the past five years or 120% of his previous salary, whichever is greater. Since the non-exclusive tag uses the last five years rather than just the current year, it lowers the tag number somewhat. A player signed with a non-exclusive tag can negotiate with other teams; the tagging team has the right to either match any other offer or receive two first-round picks in return.
For 2023, here are the non-exclusive franchise tag and transition numbers for each position, per Over the Cap.
Will the NY Jets use the franchise tag?
The most recent Jets player to receive the tag was Marcus Maye in 2021. Maye played the 2021 season under the non-exclusive tag after failing to come to a long-term agreement. He then left for the Saints in free agency.
Prior to that, the Jets had not used the tag since 2016 with Muhammad Wilkerson, and we all know how that long-term contract worked out.
In 2023, the Jets do not have the cap space to use the franchise tag on any player for whom the tag is realistic. If the NFL separated edge rushers from off-ball linebackers, perhaps using the tag on Quincy Williams would make some sense; however, since they’re all lumped together, the $20.9 million or $17.5 million for the tags are totally out of the question.
Sheldon Rankins is another free agent the Jets likely want to retain, but $18.9 million is likely more than double what they’re willing to pay him.
So the answer is no—the Jets will not be using the franchise tag this year. But there’s still a good reason for them to monitor the rest of the league’s tags.
The big fish: Lamar Jackson
The Lamar Jackson speculation has largely taken a backseat to the Aaron Rodgers/Derek Carr hype for the Jets. However, that does not mean Jackson is out of the question; it’s simply that the Ravens have the first move in this area. In fact, NBC’s Peter King believes the Jets would strongly consider acquiring Jackson if he becomes available.
The first question, though, is what the Ravens will do with Jackson. It appears increasingly unlikely that they will come to a long-term agreement prior to the tag deadline. Without the tag, they would lose all leverage over Jackson, who would become an unrestricted free agent.
Therefore, it is widely expected in NFL circles that Jackson will receive the franchise tag. Which tag, though, is the real question.
The non-exclusive tag would appear to make the most sense for the Ravens, as it would keep Jackson at a relatively modest $32.4 million salary for the 2023 season if they cannot reach a long-term agreement. As is the Ravens’ wont with all their free agents, this would allow Jackson to test his market and come back to Baltimore with his best offer. The Ravens could then either match the offer or receive two first-round picks in return.
However, the risk involved here is twofold: first, if the Ravens really do want to retain Jackson, it is possible (and even likely) that another team would find a way to structure the deal so that it is difficult for Baltimore to match, the so-called “poison pill.” Even though these have been outlawed from NFL contracts, teams can still find ways to structure deals in response to other franchises’ cap issues, such as maneuvering cap hits for maximal pain for the other team.
Second, two first-round picks are likely less than Baltimore can get for Jackson in an outright trade. Russell Wilson brought back two first-rounders, two second-rounders, a fifth-rounder, and three players, including the Broncos’ top tight end, Noah Fant. Deshaun Watson’s trade included three first-rounders and a third-rounder (as well as a swapped fourth-for-fifth-rounder).
The transition tag is not really an option due to the lack of compensation if the Ravens do not match an offer. Therefore, the only other option is the exclusive rights tag, which would prevent Jackson from negotiating with any other team. However, that would be costly, as the exclusive tag number for QBs is $45.2 million.
There is a widespread expectation that the Ravens will place the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson. This is the main reason for the Jets to keep their eye on the tag situation around the league. Once the Ravens make their move with Jackson, they will signal to the rest of the league what their potential plans might be with him.
If Jackson does become available and the Jets still have not acquired Rodgers or Carr, expect a third top name to enter the daily speculation and buzz.
Other tag candidates to monitor
There are other soon-to-be free agents that the Jets might be interested in but could receive the tag prior to hitting the market. Of NFL.com’s eight listed tag candidates, only safety Jordan Poyer of the Bills is a realistic free-agent target for the Jets. He is likely too expensive for the Jets’ current cap if he does enter free agency, but still, his name bears monitoring.
The same goes for Jessie Bates, the Bengals’ safety who was already disgruntled after being tagged in 2022, and Tashaun Gibson of the 49ers.
Quarterback Daniel Jones of the Giants is also an interesting name to watch, albeit for a different reason. Rumor has it that Jones wants $45 million a year on the market. Meanwhile, it appears that the Giants do not want to tag Jones, but they will likely be forced to if that is his asking price. There is no way, shape, or form in which a player of that caliber is worth anywhere close to $45 million.
Jones’s tag and negotiations could have an impact on the quarterback market, so his case bears watching. Geno Smith of the Seahawks is in a similar situation, although he had a stronger season than Jones throwing the ball and will likely receive a higher average annual value.
What do you think, Jets fans—will Lamar Jackson be available? Do you want the Jets to pursue him?
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