This week in the weekly salary cap series, we will take a look at one of the most controversial options given to teams: the franchise tag. The Bills have not used the franchise tag since 2016 when Doug Whaley tagged offensive tackle, Cordy Glenn. In fact, the Bills have only used the tag five times in their history. Those players were OL John Fina, WR Peerless Price, CB Nate Clements, S Jairus Byrd, and the aforementioned OT Cordy Glenn. Franchising linebacker, Matt Milano, is an option that some want the team to take, especially hearing the report last week that Milano wants to test out free agency.
What is the franchise tag?
The franchise tag is a one-year contract that gives teams the ability to keep a player on their roster while providing them with extra time to negotiate a long-term deal. From the players perspective, the franchise tag eliminates their ability to test free agency and forces them to spend another year under contract with the team. All salary is guaranteed from the franchise tag and therefore is a salary cap hit for the given year. Each team is allowed to use only one franchise tag per year. There are three types of franchise tags that teams can place on a player: exclusive tag, non-exclusive tag, and the transition tag.
Exclusive Tag – The tagged player’s salary is calculated by averaging the top 5 salaries from that position OR – a 120% increase of the player’s cap hit from the previous season. Whichever number is greater would become their salary for the next season.
Non-Exclusive Tag – The tagged player’s salary is calculated by using the following equation:
OR – a 120% increase of the player’s cap hit from the previous season. Again, whichever amount is greater would become their salary for the next season. Now the caveat with the non-exclusive is that players who receive this tag are still able to negotiate with other teams. Let’s say the Bills tag Milano with the non-exclusive tag, and then he receives a bigger offer from the Patriots. The Bills would have the ability to match the Patriots’ offer or let him sign with the Patriots. Here’s the thing; if they were to not match the Patriots’ deal, then the Bills would receive two compensatory first-round draft picks in return.
Transition Tag – The tagged player’s salary is calculated by averaging the top 10 salaries from that position. With this tag, the player is once again free to negotiate with others teams. Using the example from above, if the Bills used the transition tag on Milano, and he received a bigger offer from the Patriots, the Bills would once again be given the choice to match. However, the difference this time is that if they do not match the Patriots’ offer, the Bills would not receive any compensatory picks in return with the transition tag.
So does it work for Buffalo?
According to Spotrac, the projected non-exclusive franchise tag numbers for offensive linemen and linebacker (the only two positions I can see the Bills using it on) are $14 million and $15 million, respectively. Those numbers are right in line with what many believe John Feliciano, Daryl Williams, and Matt Milano will attract if they were to hit the open market next month. Despite that, I don’t think the Bills should sign Matt Milano to any of the franchise tags. Franky, I think $15 million is a lot for Milano. Beane and McDermott have made a point to mention that they appreciate the availability of a player just as much as their skillset, and the injury concerns that Milano has had are likely a stumbling block when negotiating with the Bills. For a player that is yet to stay healthy for an entire season, I think $11 million is a much fairer number for Milano. If he would be willing to come back on a team-friendly deal, then I would sign him. But given his desire to test the open market, it is clear that he will not be signing with the Bills for a team-friendly $11 million a year. The non-exclusive tag seems like a good option up front, but the reality is there is no serious NFL team (looking at you Houston and NY Jets) that would risk giving up two first-round picks for Milano. So, if the Bills do in-fact sign him to the $15 million non-exclusive tag, they should fully expect to have Milano on the books for $15 million this season.
The window for teams to use the franchise tag on their players is now open. Starting yesterday, the 23rd, teams have two weeks to apply to tag to players on expiring contracts. The last day for teams to apply the tag is March 9th. While I do not believe the Bills should use the tag this year, it is a viable option that many teams will use to prevent a player from walking away. Beane did not reject the idea of tagging Milano when he was asked about it after the season, so it will be something to keep an eye on over these next two weeks.