From a labor perspective, NFL players get a pretty raw deal overall. They often get less money than their counterparts in basketball and baseball despite more grueling conditions and shorter careers, and they can be cut at any time without teams have to pay them the rest of their “contracts,” which are really little more than suggestions of how much a team might pay.

The least these guys deserve is a clear path to free agency, but they don’t get that either, because the franchise tag allows teams to retain stars at a fixed rate, preventing them from cashing in on the open market.

Enter Mike Florio, who delivered a thoughtful anti-franchise tag screed Wednesday over at Pro Football Talk. A lot of Florio’s argument had to do with salary cap mechanics, but his primary point was that the tag limits paydays for the best players while effectively capping the market for everyone else.

Consider this year. Linebacker Von Miller has a franchise tender of $14.129 million. A long-term deal based on the tag would guarantee Miller his 2016 franchise tender and his 2017 tender, which would be $17.148 million. That’s $31.277 million fully guaranteed at signing.

On the open market, defensive end Olivier Vernon got $40 million fully guaranteed at signing plus total cash flow of $41 million through two years. How much more would Von Miller have gotten on the open market, if it had been him instead of Vernon at the top of the 2016 free agency class of pass rushers?

As Florio points out, this is blatantly unfair to Miller but also could sub-optimal for Vernon and most other players, who would benefit from having the top stars set the market.

Since the franchise tag affects only a small percentage of all players, the NFLPA could be inclined not to fight to get rid of it, because doing so could require a concession that would affect all players. But the franchise tag currently affects all players by keeping the top of the market at each position in check. Basically, it’s legalized collusion — separate and apart from the illegal collusion that plenty of agents believe is happening.

Remember when it seemed like half the league perpetually occupied salary-cap purgatory? With the cap now spiking every year but none of the best players in position either to get to the open market or to force their current teams to pay them market value, few if any teams are scratching and clawing to comply with the cap. Which means that less of the total available money under the cap is being paid to players.

Basically, the franchise tag is just another mechanism for holding salaries down, as if the salary cap and rookie pay scale isn’t enough. As Florio says, the NFL Players Association should be fighting ardently to remove the franchise tag as soon as possible.


About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports,, and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.