According to ESPN.com’s Mike Sando, “the smart money says the [New England] Patriots will name Moss their franchise player, then take their chances working out a multiyear deal. This option protects the Patriots from losing Moss without compensation, while buying time for negotiations.”
Teams have until February 21 (15 days total) to name franchise and transition players. The concepts were first introduced as part of the NFL’s labor agreement of 1993. Every year each NFL team is permitted to designate one of its players who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent as a either a “franchise” or a “transition” player. The reasoning is that these tools, at least theoretically, allow teams with the best chance of retaining one of its best performers, while granting said player with a fair-market contract for one year. Each team has access each year to only one franchise tag (either exclusive or non-exclusive) or one transition tag. The latter is a less restrictive tool used to retain unrestricted free agents, guaranteeing the original club the right of first refusal to match any offer the player may make with another team. Transition players get one-year offers of the average of the top-10 at their position; however, the original team is not entitled to compensation if it elects not to match any new deal.
Franchise tags (2008 numbers available here), however, are a bit different. An “exclusive” franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount equal to or greater than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of a date in April of the current year in which the tag will apply, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary (whichever is greater). Exclusive franchise players cannot negotiate with other teams. A “non-exclusive” franchise player, on the other hand, must be offered a one-year contract for an amount equal to or greater than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position in the previous year, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. A non-exclusive franchise player may negotiate with other NFL teams. However, if he signs an offer sheet from another team, the original team has a right to match the terms of that offer, or if it does not match the offer and ultimately loses the player, receives two first-round draft picks as compensation for the lost player.
The “franchise tag” makes most players (and their agents) gag. It is, in fact, a “mixed bag” for NFL stars. It can, theoretically, lead to a lucrative, long-term deal (under the current CBA, teams have until July 15 to strike a long-term deal with a franchised player). But that’s not guaranteed, and in the meantime, “tagged players are frozen, unable to move and without income until September.” In 2005, for example, Seattle running back Shaun Alexander’s agent Jim Steiner remarked that “[The tag] is almost like a penalty. Even though the numbers have grown, it’s the lack of ability to move and choose and to negotiate. You’re just hamstrung by the whole thing.” And per Mike Reiss of The Boston Globe, “players generally loathe the tag because it restricts their ability to fully benefit from unrestricted free agency, and receive the large up-front bonus that generally comes with longer-term contracts.”
Moss’ case is no different. Moss played last season for about $5 million, but quickly became the favorite target of Tom Brady and thus far more valuable, while catching 98 passes for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns. The franchise number for receivers is $7.84 million (the average salary cap charge of the highest-paid five receivers in 2007). As Sando astutely notes:
“Moss would obviously command far more on a multiyear deal, but only if he is free to negotiate one. What if Moss feels entitled to more than the Patriots are willing to pay him? Professionals can agree to disagree, but a player’s dissatisfaction can affect his play. Would Moss be worth the $7.84 million if the Patriots received less in return from an unhappy player?”