If the New York Jets don’t want to use the franchise tag, why should they care?
As the NFL offseason gets off to its usual sleepy start, where speculation abounds and real news is scarce, an important date on the calendar has arrived.
Beginning on February 21st and running through March 7th, the New York Jets, along with all other NFL teams, will have the opportunity to place a franchise tag on a pending free agent.
What is the franchise brand? 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 is colloquially called the franchise tag is actually divided into three different types of tags. Each piece has slightly different rules.
- The exclusive rights mark is the most expensive of the three types. A player who receives such a piece cannot negotiate with other teams. The one-year contract for an exclusive rights tag is the average of the five best salaries for the player’s position current years or 120% of the player’s previous salary, whichever is higher. Due to its high price, this tag has only been used four times since 2012, most recently on Le’Veon Bell in 2017.
- The transition label 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 tag team has the right of first refusal. But if they do not match the offer, they will not receive any compensation.
- The non-exclusive tag is the tag commonly referred to as the “franchise tag”. It is a one-year contract with a salary based on the average of the top five salaries in the position over the last five years or 120% of his previous salary, whichever is higher. Since the non-exclusive tag uses the past five years instead of just the current year, it lowers the tag number somewhat. A player signed with a non-exclusive code may 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 last 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 terms on a long-term deal. He then went to the Saints in free action.
Before that, the Jets hadn’t 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 room to use the franchise tag on any players for whom the tag is realistic. If the NFL separated edge rushers from off-ball linebackers, perhaps applying the tag to Quincy Williams would make sense; But since they are all combined, $20.9 million or $17.5 million for the tags is completely out of the question.
Sheldon Rankins is another free agent the Jets likely want to keep, 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 use the franchise tag this year. But it’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 doesn’t 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 will strongly consider acquiring Jackson if he becomes available.
The first question, however, is what the Ravens will do with Jackson. It appears increasingly unlikely that they will reach a long-term agreement before the trade 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 however, the tag is the real question.
The non-exclusive tag seems 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 can’t reach a long-term deal. As the Ravens do with all of their free agents, this would allow Jackson to test his market and come back to Baltimore with his best offer. The Ravens can 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 wants to keep Jackson, it is possible (and even likely) that another team will find a way to structure the deal so that it is difficult for Baltimore to match, the so-called “poison pill.” Although these have been banned from NFL contracts, teams can still find ways to structure deals in response to other franchises’ cap issues, such as maneuvering cap hits for maximum pain for the other team.
Second, two first-round picks are likely less than Baltimore could 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 fourth-for-fifth-rounder traded).
The trade tag isn’t really an option due to the lack of compensation if the Ravens don’t match an offer. Therefore, the only other option is the exclusive rights tag, which would prevent Jackson from negotiating with other teams. That would be costly, however, as the exclusive code number for QBs is $45.2 million.
There is widespread expectation that the Ravens will place the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson. This is the main reason for the Jets to keep an eye on the tag situation around the league. When the Ravens make their move on Jackson, they will signal to the rest of the league what their potential plans might be with him.
If Jackson becomes available and the Jets still haven’t 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 the Jets may be interested in but could receive the tag before 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’s likely too expensive for the Jets’ current cap if he enters free agency, but still, his name is being watched.
The same goes for Jessie Bates, the Bengals safety who was already unhappy after being tagged in 2022, and Tashaun Gibson of the 49ers.
Giants quarterback Daniel Jones 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 the Giants don’t want to tag Jones, but they’ll likely be forced to if it’s price-demanding. There is no way, shape or form in which a player of that caliber is worth anywhere near $45 million.
Jones’ 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 command a higher average annual value.
What do you think, Jets fans – will Lamar Jackson be available? Do you want the Jets to pursue him?