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What should the NFLPA be fighting for in the next CBA?

ten years just goes by in a flash, doesn’t it?

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NFL: Houston Texans at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There have been some interesting reports this week about the NFL owners and the NFLPA engaging in discussions about the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, even though the current one has nearly 2 years remaining. This is from a Pro Football Rumors article that cites Dan Graziano as the source of information:

There’s been a lot of talk over the past year about the league’s CBA and the potential for a work stoppage. Owners are widely seen as having won the last round of negotiations, and players will be making much stronger demands this time around. Many believe the owners won’t be willing to meet those demands, which could cause another lockout.

This is consistent with a lot of reports I had read over the past year or two, indicating that we could be in for another contentious round of bargaining like we saw in the 2009-2011 time period that included a ‘lockout’ of the players by NFL owners.

But the two sides apparently made some progress in their first round of negotiating meetings earlier this week, according to Dan Graziano of (Twitter link). Graziano writes that people involved in the negotiations “believe the owners would like to get a new deal in place prior to the start of the 2019 season.”

Wow! Hold on. Did he say “prior to the start of the 2019 season”?!?!

That’s the first time I’ve heard that suggested. Graziano’s tweet is saying that the NFL owners and the NFLPA could hammer out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in the next 4 12 months!?

It’s hard to imagine, but I’d be hugely in favor of such an outcome.

In a separate tweet, Graziano notes that the fact they’re making progress with this far to go is a positive sign. The current CBA runs through the 2020 season, so we’re still a ways out. “They’re engaging the players in talks with two seasons left, which “indicates a possibility (though not a certainty) that this could be done without a work stoppage,” Graziano writes.

Again, hard to imagine, but good news if it’s accurate.

Players are likely to seek significant concessions on issues like the guarantees in contracts, and owners have been unwilling to budge [on] in the past. Ultimately players were unwilling to forego any game checks last time around, and it’ll be very interesting to see how far they’re willing to go this time.

The identified issue in this article is contract guarantees.

Ultimately, the players could win the battle but lose the war on this topic, earning a Pyrrhic victory. My thinking is that NFL owners aren’t opposed to guaranteed contracts, they are opposed to long-term, high-dollar guaranteed contracts. It would be an easy negotiation for the owners to dig in hard against any guarantees at all, then grudgingly concede guarantees on contracts with limited dollar values or limited years. After all, the league already has guarantees in place for all first round draft picks, franchise-tagged players, and others.

The NFLPA could walk away with concessions from the owners feeling that they had gotten a partial win, and thinking they’d get more next time around, and have wasted the opportunity to get more meaningful agreement with the owners.

So, if I don’t think contract guarantees are valuable enough for the NFLPA to plant the flag on behalf of their players, what should the NFLPA be fighting for?

Greater benefits for retired players

Redskins legend John Riggins is among those championing the fight for former NFL players. With today’s stars becoming multi-millionaires, there’s a perception that the union has abandoned its former members and left them with benefits that are far less than they should be.

Click here to read a summary of benefits for Vested Active Players, Non-Vested Active Players, Vested Former Players, and Vested Former Players (Pre-1993)

USA today recently highlighted the battle that former players are fighting, and the difficulty they have in making progress without representation in the Collective Bargaining Agreement discussions.

“The Diesel” is still running … with a different purpose.

The Super Bowl XVII MVP is revved up about the still-persistent quest by retired players from his era to increase their pensions, which pale when compared to more recent retirees and current players.

“It appears the NFLPA and their constituents are only worried about themselves, and, ‘Sorry, guys, just die, will you please? Go away,’ “ Riggins, 69, told USA TODAY Sports during a recent group interview that included his wife, Lisa Marie, and several former teammates. “That’s kind of the feeling you get.”

[T]here’s... a “Groundhog Day” effect when it comes to aging ex-players looking for a bigger piece of the NFL pie. They’ve been at it for decades, in one form or another, frustrated that those who played before the major sea change in the NFL’s system occurred in 1993 – when liberalized free-agency and a salary cap were instituted – are in a markedly lower class for benefits. This, while the most robust sports league in the land continues to grow, with revenues exceeding $14 billion per year.

Compare the pension of, say, Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure, around $30,000 per year, with the $220,000 maximum for similarly vested retirees of Major League Baseball or the NBA who played in the 1970s, and the concerns of the ex-players resonate.

But here’s the big problem for the pre-’93ers: Like the last time and multiple times before, they won’t have a seat at the bargaining table when the NFL and NFLPA negotiate to extend the current collective bargaining agreement that expires after the 2020 season.

“One of the important things in appealing to the union and the current players is that they’ve held themselves out now as social justice warriors,” Lisa Marie Riggins said. “So I think the timing is perfect to make our case. I say to them, ‘Look inside your very own house,’ because there’s some justice that can be done.”

Of course, current players and NFLPA leadership have a different view. When the last CBA was struck in 2011, active players contributed more than any group of players ever to the pre-’93 cause – largely through the $620 million “Legacy Fund” that was funded jointly with NFL owners.

Yet the current players are challenged by a lingering perception that, with salaries that dwarf those of previous generations, they lack empathy for the pioneers.

Personally, I’d like to see some percentage of league revenues annually set aside for the benefit of former players to give them more than they get now. Even a small revenue ‘tax’ of around 0.3-0.5% of revenue would provide a meaningful increase in benefit funding for the group of former players.

I understand that the NFLPA is organized to represent current players, and that owners are not responsible for the welfare of those who are retired, but we’ve all seen what often happens to young men in their 20s, many of whom are from impoverished backgrounds, who are lavished with millions of dollars per year. Many end up with no financial security, and the players of today (who are the constituents of the NFLPA) are the former-players of tomorrow. Seeking better benefits and funding those benefits retroactively seems to be something worth working towards.

Grow the “middle class” of players

An analysis done by AP this year found that the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement exacerbated the issue of team rosters getting younger.

Whatever the cause, the issue appears to be real and deepening:

By the time NFL players reach their third and fourth years in the league, the vast majority are struggling just to hang on because of injuries or younger, faster and often cheaper rookies out for their jobs.

In 2006 and 2011, the players union and the NFL tried to do something about that, adopting salary and bookkeeping rules with the potential to extend the careers of these veterans.

It hasn’t worked.

In a first-of-its-kind analysis, The Associated Press found that since 2005, the average amount of playing experience for athletes on the NFL’s opening-day rosters has shrunk from 4.6 years to 4.3.

In 2005, there were 784 players with three years’ experience or less and 714 with five or more years. In 2018, the gap widened to 852 and 644.

Teams are increasingly made up of a few star millionaires and an army of young players earning close to the minimum salary, with a dwindling number of older, journeyman athletes in the middle.

“You don’t really have a lot of middle-class older guys. It’s actually kind of sad,” Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin said.

Union leaders argue that they have fought successfully to increase the amount of money going to all players, in part by raising the NFL cap on team payrolls. As the union sees it, where front offices spend that money is their decision.

“Just as long as they spend it,” said union president Eric Winston, who played for 12 seasons. “But how do you address something like that? Do you say, ‘Well, let’s mandate there are five to 10 guys on every roster who have four to seven years’ experience?′ OK, then which guys aren’t going to make the roster because of that?”

The story of ninth-year Seahawks safety Earl Thomas stands as a cautionary tale. Thomas held out through the preseason for a new, cash-up-front, long-term contract in case of serious injury.

He failed to get what he wanted and played instead under his soon-to-expire contract this year. In the fourth game of the season, he broke his leg.

The final image of Thomas on the field was of him giving the finger to his own bench as he was carted off, knowing he almost certainly won’t get as big a contract now that he’s damaged goods.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In 2006, the “minimum salary benefit” was added to the collective bargaining agreement to help lower-paid veterans keep playing. It allows teams to sign players in their fifth year and beyond to one-year contracts at the league-mandated minimum for their experience level, while charging less than the full amount against the club’s salary cap.

For example, a fifth-year player this year would get the league minimum of $790,000, but only $630,000 of that would be counted against the $177 million cap on the team’s payroll. (The league minimum for a rookie is $480,000.)

But according to the AP data, since the introduction of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, the average amount of playing experience among the 1,700 or so athletes on opening-day rosters has shrunk 3.3 percent. And the new contract terms did nothing to halt the exodus of players with five or more years under their belts.

Most teams use around 50 percent of the cap on their 10 highest-paid players, one of whom is almost always the quarterback. Rookie draft picks eat up between $5 million and $15 million. The 35 or so other players scrap for the rest — and that amount is drawn down by money paid to injured athletes and those no longer on the roster.

The only position outside of kicker and punter that is trending older is, not surprisingly, quarterback, where average experience has risen since 2005 from nearly 4.8 years to 5.8. (New England’s Tom Brady, 41, is in his 19th season.)

Experience at other positions is declining. Positions widely seen as most replaceable — running back, linebacker, wide receiver and interior lineman — have seen some of the sharpest drops.

A look at the two charts presented in the article above show that the current trend towards younger rosters coincides with the adoption of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement. While it took a couple of years for the effects to completely wash through, the trends seem obvious. There has been a sharp movement from older veterans to younger players — much more dramatic than in the past.

Personally, I believe that the ‘slotting’ system implemented by the current CBA was the prime driver behind the acceleration of this trend towards younger rosters. By artificially suppressing player wages for 4 years, the CBA has effectively turned all but the most talented players into ‘disposable’ commodities to be replaced as soon as their rookie contracts are finished.

My recommendation would not be to do away with the slotting system altogether, but to shorten drafted rookie contracts to just 2 years so that players have two seasons to establish their worth as NFL players, and exit their rookie contracts just when their value is approaching its peak, giving them an opportunity to grab a bigger piece of the salary cap pie, roughly half of which is currently dished out to the top-10 players on each team.

A collection of recommendations from OverTheCap

Jason Fitzgerald and Vijay Natarajan from OverTheCap recently posted a series of articles in which they offered nine proposals for the upcoming NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, explaining each recommendation in a separate article.

They represent one view, and I don’t necessarily agree with all the points offered, but they are well thought out and deserving of consideration on their merits.

CBA Suggestion Number 1: Reducing the Length of Rookie Contracts to Two Years

This is the same suggestion that I championed in a recent article here on Hogs Haven. In fact, I used some of the arguments put forward by Fitzgerald & Natarajan to bolster my own argument.

The original CBA more or less did what it was supposed to do for veterans from 1994 through 2010. You can see the rise in population of players 30 and older during that timeframe. Starting in 2011 we see the big decline in the 30+ age group. Notice that the sub 30 age group has remained relatively steady. We can argue all we want about the 2011 CBA but changes that occurred there regarding salary cap minimums, rookie wage scales, and unlimited salary cap carryovers at the very least allowed teams to experiment with rosters purged of older players. Based on the trends they have liked the results and no change is likely going to put the genie back in the bottle and see what happened between 1993 and 2010 where teams were more willing to have older players on the roster.

But even more so than that we were really only talking about a maximum of 30% of NFL rosters being older than 29. So while we can make a strong argument that a players earning potential ends at 29, for the majority of players it ends much earlier.

The players would solve so many problems if they can shorten rookie contracts. The franchise tag is a major problem because after two tags a player is likely going to be 28 or older. With shorter contracts we would likely cap off the first chance at free agency, even after two tags, at no older than 27. That’s doable for a top line player since they will still be considered in the prime of their career. Teams were already willing to guarantee huge numbers to rookies and we can guarantee you that the percentage of contract guarantees should go up much higher when signing deals at 24 or 25 in free agency than 27 and 28.

Getting to free agency at this age gets the player into free agency at the peak of his career. Players who may be good but not great are going to get raises and you will likely see the rise of the middle class due to that even if those players will likely be done by the time they are 27. At least in this case they get the raise they deserve off a rookie contract rather than having to play out the rookie deal and finding out there is little more than a minimum deal waiting for them by the time they hit free agency at 27.

For elite players this is going to not only give them one good chance at earning a contract but likely two major deals. Under this type of system you should get a chance to cash in at 25 and then again at 29 or 30 if you are still really effective. That first deal likely would carry a massive guarantee if extended or signed as a free agent.

CBA Suggestion Number 2: Revamp the Rookie Contract Rules

Players who go undrafted sign mandatory three year, rather than four year, rookie contracts. Signing bonuses are not slotted but a cap is put on each team so that they can not use large signing bonuses for the players. However, in recent years more and more teams are guaranteeing high levels of salaries for undrafted’s essentially giving some a larger guarantee than players who were drafted in the 6th and 7th rounds. Undrafted players are allowed to be extended after just two NFL seasons rather than three NFL seasons. Finally after the expiration of the player’s contract they are eligible to either be tendered at one of three restricted levels or to become a free agent.

If you begin to play the money out you will see that there are clear benefits that are available to players who go undrafted and to a much lesser extent sliding from late in the second round of the draft into the third round of the draft.

It’s very clear the issues that exist here. The third round draft selection has potential to out earn the 2nd round draft pick despite the fact that both may very well play at the same level. The UDFA has the potential to out earn all but the top 42 or 43 (a mid-second round selection) in the draft. That doesn’t make any sense especially when you combine that with the fact that they can also sign extensions earlier than anyone else.

Fixing this should be relatively straightforward. All players should be eligible after their second season to sign a contract extension. That puts UDFA’s and draft picks on equal footing. It also gives every player an opportunity to push their contract issues earlier if they can’t get rookie contracts completely knocked down to two years.

A system like this would not only make certain that the early career earnings of the first round pick remain higher than others who were drafted lower and are PPE eligible but would also put pressure on teams to extend players after their second season in the NFL rather than paying out a large bonus that increases cap charges, wouldn’t be used as a way to agree to “fake guarantees” when an extension is signed, and requires a large sum of cash to be paid early in a deal.

CBA Suggestion Number 3: Increase Mandatory Injury Protection

The rules are spelled out in Article 45 (Injury Protection) of the CBA, but the quick gist of it is that a player has 50% of his following year’s salary up to a maximum of $1.2 million guaranteed (in the 2019-2020 League Years) for injury in the event a football injury renders him unable to play. Teams cannot evade any injury protection by releasing a player early. There is also an extended injury protection benefit that covers the second season after an injury up to $575,000.

We believe the players’ goal should be to increase this number in the next CBA and tie raises into the growth of the salary cap. Currently the injury protection raise amounts to just $25,000 a year which kicks in every other year as it is stated in the current CBA. Had the number been tied to the cap it would be at least $1.5 million in 2019 rather than $1.2 million. Still there should be more protection that just $1.5 million.

As a baseline number the players should look to increase the maximums to $3 million for the year after an injury and $1.5 million for two seasons following an injury while keeping the same 50% calculation to determine the actual amount. Growth in the numbers should be tied to the growth of the salary cap the same way RFA tenders, draft slotting, and franchise tags are also tied to growth in the cap

This should not be a difficult negotiation for the players, or something they should ignore. We think teams in general are more considerate now of the dangers of the game and would agree to ensure more protection in this regard for players. If you look at the growing number of injury only guarantees agreed to in negotiations for free agents/extensions, one can see that this is an area where NFL owners have been flexible. Partially we believe this is because injury guarantee payouts are a rarer occurrence because of the high threshold to have the kind of injury that prevents a player from basically trying out for a team, but also because teams can take out insurance policies to cover such situations for expensive players.

CBA Suggestion Number 4: Raise League Wide and Team Minimum Spending Requirements

This is one area where I am not in strong agreement with OverTheCap, primarily because they are violating a key rule of negotiations. Fitzgerald and Natarajan are suggesting that the NFLPA negotiate for something they are, for the most part, already getting.

Unless this is treated as an “oh, by the way” late adjustment to the CBA, it is a wasted effort. If the NFLPA asks for this, they will likely get it, but the owners will almost certainly extract a concession in return. The NFLPA would end up giving something away, and getting little beyond a paper victory in return.

There are two cash requirements in the current CBA. The first is a league wide spending requirement of 95% of the NFL salary cap over two four year periods (2013-2016 and 2017-2020). The second is that each team must spend to a minimum of at least 89% of the salary cap to make certain that the 95% number is not being met by a minority of teams.

These numbers should not only be raised but they must be raised significantly.

A true movement by the NFL should be to come up from 95% league wide spending to 103%. That number is only a 2% jump from where the NFL is right now and 12 or 13 teams are already within striking distance of that number. Every team should be required to spend at least 100% of the salary cap in cash to bring those bottom teams up. If those 12 teams that were under 100% in the last four years were forced to spend 100% the league would pretty much meet that 103% number without much trouble. While the NFL would argue that this is too big a jump from 95% the fact is all it is requiring is for teams to spend about an extra $3.3 million per year from where they are now to hit the number.

This would be a victory, but a small one. The NFLPA should put this right near the bottom of the priority list, if they prioritize it at all.

CBA Suggestion Number 5: Reinstitute Salary Cap Minimum Spending

While I will present OTC’s argument here, I don’t agree with it wholeheartedly. They describe the current situation as having more negative than positive effects, but I disagree.

We are seeing a lot of flexibility for front offices in managing the salary cap, resulting in more roster movement, more trades, and more options in medium term planning. In a league where “worst to first” is the promise that makes every season worth watching, the current flexibility that front offices have is an important part of the equation, and I don’t think that things will be improved by reducing the level of flexibility.

OTC presents some information to rebut my “worst to first” argument, but I remain unconvinced by their logic. Feel free to click through to the article to read what they have to say on that issue and look at the statistical table they present.

In the prior (2006-2012) CBA, teams were required to allocate a certain amount of costs to their salary cap every season. The 2011 CBA scrapped this rule in favor of allowing teams to “carry over” unlimited amounts of salary cap room to future seasons. The results, in general, have been more negative than positive. With teams having gigantic amounts of cap carryover compared to moderate amounts in the prior CBA, teams are finding it much easier to release players or decide to take a year or two off from the market, so they can load up at a later date. Teams have the ability to carry players on the franchise/transition tag with no problems giving them incredible leverage in negotiations. The salary cap was also designed to bring some parity to the league and that is rarely happening these days so if they want to make it meaningful they have to bring changes to it.

Putting teams in a position where they have to use large signing bonuses to fit a player within the salary cap puts significant pressure on a team because of the dead money associated with the release. That pressure only exists if a team, however, is tight against the salary cap. When teams are looking at future ledgers with $50 and $60 million or more in cap room the fact is there is no pressure.

Our feeling is if teams were required to spend somewhere between 90 and 95% of the cap (meaning carryovers this year would not exceed $17 million) you would eventually see more players get to free agency and better overall structured contracts for the players leading to a more competitive field of teams each year.

CBA Suggestion Number 6: Salary Cap Amnesty Clause

I published an article on this question on Tuesday. Along with the first suggestion (shorter rookie contracts), I think this is the most important of the 9 recommendations put forward by OverTheCap in this series.

This is an issue for the NFLPA because it creates an opportunity for players to truly “double dip” against the salary cap. If a player is lost due to a catastrophic injury (à la Alex Smith in 2018), this proposal would see the player get paid 100% of his guaranteed money, but the team would get a “reset” on the salary cap. The only loser here would be the owner, who would have to pay the injured player and still pay out the restored salary cap money a second time, but this would be good for the players, good for competitiveness, good for fans and good for the game.

Just because Alex Smith provides a perfect example of the situation where this recommendation would apply doesn’t mean that this is a “Redskins” issue, or that it represents an opportunity for bad management to get out of bad contracts. Recent big-dollar, long-term deals include Russell Wilson in Seattle and DeMarcus Lawrewnce in Dallas. A catastrophic training camp injury similar to the one suffered by Teddy Bridgewater a few years ago, or a Joe Theismann/Alex Smith type injury that occurs during a game are events that can affect a team through no one’s fault.

This recommendation got a lot of healthy debate earlier this week, and many Hogs Haven readers are, not simply unenthusiastic, but flatly opposed to this rule change recommendation.

I, personally, see it as a valuable adjustment to the dramatic escalation of contracts (QB & Edge in particular) in recent years, and players’ desire for more guarantees going forward. With the proposed restrictions, it would offer a limited tool that would be available to every franchise equally, but which no franchise would want to be in a position to utilize (as Peyton Manning once said, no player wants to be in a position to win ‘Comeback Player of the Year’).

I’d like to see this included as part of the new CBA in some form or another.

You can call this the “Alex Smith rule” or even “Kam Chancellor rule”. Catastrophic injuries like this are unfortunate outcomes in a collision sport and at times completely unforeseen. Teams should not be penalized the way they are in these instances. For example, the Washington Redskins will need to account for over $50 million on their cap if they had decided to walk away and terminate Smith’s contract. In this example, Smith will count for over $40 million (in cap space) the next two seasons and it’s a big burden for the Redskins and prevents them from signing other players.

We propose a rule where if a player is deemed by an independent doctor to have suffered a football injury that will cause him to miss an entire season then the team would have the option of releasing the player (while still having to fulfill ALL contractually obligated cash guarantees) with the only dead money counting on the salary cap to be that years prorated bonus money and having no dead money accelerate onto the current year’s salary cap or onto any future salary cap the way a post June 1 would work.

The catch to this proposed amnesty clause is that it can only be used once, either every four seasons or during the duration of the entire CBA. We are not looking to create an environment where teams are creatively finding ways to get out of cap charges we just want to protect the teams in the event of extraordinary circumstances and give those teams the most ability to go back into the market and sign players. A limited use amnesty rule should do just that.

CBA Suggestion Number 7: The Elimination of the Funding Rule

This should be the shortest negotiation point in the history of negotiations, as it benefits the owners every bit as much as the players.

Article 26 (Salaries), Section 9 (Funding of Deferred and Guaranteed Contracts) discusses the funding rule which is a requirement that any guaranteed, other than injury guarantees, needs to be set aside in an escrow account, by each NFL team. This is one of those rules that has helped prevent players from negotiating guaranteed salaries in future NFL seasons because it requires so much liquidity up front by NFL owners.

There was a time when the rule probably made sense to have. The NFL, after all, wasn’t the billion dollar juggernaut that it is now. There could have been a threat to players accepting deferred compensation or expecting guaranteed salaries to simply have their money vanish if a team was insolvent and incapable of meeting their obligations. Those times have now changed.

Instead of protecting the players the rule has now hurt them as it becomes involved in negotiations. It’s not like you can even argue it to try the force the issue- the rule exists and the only way around it is to use injury related guarantees that vest at a later date, typically starting in the second year of a contract.

Not surprisingly injury guarantees are at an all-time high at around 50% of the contract value of free agent signings. Full guarantees lag under 40%. The funding rule isn’t the only reason why that is the case but it is one of the reasons and one that should be easily eliminated. With that rule eliminated it will at least give the players side of a negotiation a fairer ground to stand on when discussing guaranteed salary rather than simply being told it can’t be done because of the funding rule that is in place.

This should be a slam dunk in my opinion.

CBA Suggestion Number 8: Improving the Revenue Split

This is one of those negotiating points where the lawyers earn their money — a place where a small movement in a decimal point can turn into tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars. Items like this are why I am so dismissive of Suggestion 4, which is small beans by comparison.

If the CBA talks were to break down and end in a walkout or a lockout, I would suspect that this is the type of issue that would create the stumbling block.

The current CBA ties player costs to three “buckets”- League Media, NFL Ventures, and Local Revenues- with varying percentages going to the players for each bucket. However, the bigger thing is that the NFL has capped off player costs at 48.5% while also adding in a floor (a percentage it can not go lower than) of 47%.

We are not smart enough to discuss the way that the breakdown of each item should go since we have no real financials to go off, [because] ... NFL teams are privately held.

when we had extensions in the CBA, for the most part, we saw pretty significant increases in the salary cap. We believe the CBA was extended in 1996 (9.8% growth), 1998 (26.4% growth), 2002 (5.5% growth), and 2006 (19.3% growth). Other than in 2002 those three years rank 1, 2, and 3 in cap growth over the entire length of the CBA. Those years were then followed by pretty sluggish growth rates before the next CBA caused a spike. By contrast in 2011 we saw a 2.1% decline, the only time in the history of the agreement that the cap has retreated.

It’s hard to imagine another agreement coming down where the players do not get some type of immediate spike in the revenues going their way. We would think a 50/50 split would be pretty equitable and would add millions of dollars into the pockets of the players even if no other changes occurred in the CBA.

This is likely the most contentious part of the CBA negotiation. The owners seemed to “win” this point last time around, so expect the NFLPA to negotiate harder here this time around.

CBA Suggestion Number 9: Revamping the Franchise Tag System

If I had to nominate one thing in the NFL contract and salary cap system that is “broken”, it would be the Franchise Tag System.

It doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, and it needs to be addressed.

I don’t have clear thoughts on what should be done to fix it; I suspect that it needs almost a complete overhaul or replacement, but here are the lengthy, detailed and well-thought-out suggestions from the boys at OverTheCap:

The original intention of the franchise tag was a good one. It was designed to prevent teams from losing top tier players (i.e., star quarterbacks) in free agency while giving the two sides added time to work out an agreement. Basically the concept was in place to prevent a team like the Indianapolis Colts from losing someone like quarterback Peyton Manning to another team and not receive anything in return for the player. But this is really no longer the case as it has simply became a tool used by NFL teams to hamper player’s leverage and the ability to earn top dollar.

Here are some changes we would propose:

  1. Change the valuation process for the franchise tag. Using salary cap charges minus workout bonuses is less reflective of value than other methods. The salary cap is an accounting system and you won’t always have the top paid players at the top of the list. One option would be to use the annual value of a player’s contract.
  2. Since we are talking about franchise players using the top 3, rather than top 5, by APY would do a better job of really putting the franchise value in an elite tier. If that would be unacceptable we would suggest using the three year metric to set the tag levels. The three year is much more reflective of the expected earnings for a player and that three year annual number would do a better job of taking into account what teams are really willing to pay “franchise” talents.
  3. Change the compensation. Two first round picks is simply too steep a price. The Chicago Bears traded two ones for linebacker Khalil Mack and a 2nd round pick. We just saw Antonio Brown get traded for a 3rd and a 5th, Odell Beckham for a 1st and some spare parts while Amari Cooper went for a 1st. The last player that we can think went for two legit firsts in a trade (and there may be someone else we are not thinking of) was quarterback Jay Cutler back in 2010 when Denver Broncos got back two 1st round picks, a 3rd round pick, and a player for Cutler and a 5th round pick. That’s a legit blockbuster, but he was also a QB. The facts are that teams will never pay the price of two first round picks and nothing else in return for any of these players who wind up on the tag. Change the compensation level to one first round pick and at least it creates an opportunity for franchise players to truly experience free agency.
  4. Eliminate the Exclusive Franchise Tag. The exclusive tag is simply based on the most recent cap figures and completely blocks a player from free agency. There is no need for that type of tag.
  5. Eliminate trading of franchise players until at least week four of the regular season. The ability of teams to effectively hold a player hostage for the sole purpose of finding a trade partner needs to stop. Teams had multiple opportunities to trade the player in prior seasons and didn’t do it. Their only recourse to recover a pick should either be the compensatory pick process (which maxes at a 3rd) or declining to match a tag offer and receiving a 1st The tag should not be in place to allow a team to simply hold onto a player to try to gain a 2nd round pick. If the NFL wants to allow that to happen then they need to add in a new tag with a 2nd round price.
  6. Modify the positional groupings- With the way teams play defense there needs to be an “edge” category that helps outside linebackers receive a fair tag number. This would also put non-rush linebackers in the talk for the tag. Likewise adding in a new designation for tackles and interior offensive linemen (i.e., guards) would do a fairer job of representing that part of the NFL population.
  7. Allow extensions to be signed up to the start of the regular season- Right now the league has a firm deadline of July 15th to get a deal finished up. If a deal is not signed by that date then the best the player can do is a one year contract. A player’s leverage should only increase by a team seeing what it may be missing when the player is not in training camp. Moving the date to the start of the regular season should at least give both sides the same potential leverage.
  8. Add an injury guaranteed, mutual option year to the tag process. The way this would work is that the new contract would equal the current tag number plus the 120% raise (or 144% raise when applicable) in the second year. That second year would be guaranteed for injury upon signing the contract. Both sides would then have the ability to opt in or out of the second year by sending written notice by the fifth day after the Super Bowl. If both sides agree to opt in the second contract year becomes fully guaranteed. If one side opts out the franchise process exists as it does now. As an example this would give Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett $18.25 million in injury protection for 2020. That is added leverage to the player side to play on the tag with a minimized threat of injury. Considering he can opt out of the contract (as could the team) there is nothing being given up by the player with this system.


What do you think is most likely?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    The new CBA will be in place before the start of the 2019 season, as Dan Graziano suggested might happen.
    (2 votes)
  • 26%
    The new CBA will come on line after the end of the 2020 season, without any unpleasant industrial action (player’s strike/owner’s lockout).
    (9 votes)
  • 23%
    The new CBA will be delayed. Similar to 2010, the league will play the 2021 season without an agreement in place, and will only resolve it ahead of the 2022 season.
    (8 votes)
  • 44%
    The NFLPA and the owners will have another contentious struggle to negotiate the next agreement; there will be a strike and/or lockout, lost games and drama before a new agreement can be reached.
    (15 votes)
34 votes total Vote Now