The Cleveland Browns can use the non-exclusive franchise tag on only one player per year, so David Njoku or Jadeveon Clowney seem to be good candidates.
The Cleveland Browns are allowed to use one “Franchise Tag” per year, which is basically the antidote serum for a star player who wants to leave the Browns as a legitimate free agent. The Browns have two players they can consider tagging: Jadeveon Clowney, the Pro Bowl defensive end, and David Njoku, the outstanding tight end who has surpassed Austin Hooper as the best all-around tight end on the Browns.
Truth be told, Hooper is now the third-best tight end on the team, but still fights hard to earn his top paycheck. Nobody knows why Hooper’s production has slid from his Pro Bowl days in Atlanta.
Is it Hooper? Or is it something wrong with the way that Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield uses him? In any case, Njoku will be only 27 years old next season. He is in the prime of his career, and has finally emerged as a complete tight end after years of being unappreciated.
Clowney had an outstanding year for the Browns, but on the other hand, the pay scale for defensive ends is significantly higher than for tight ends. As shown in the table below, using data from Overthecap.com.
The Franchise tag is based on the average salary of the top five pros at each position. Each team has the right to designate one player that they get to keep and retain for at least one year. The player and his agent can elect to negotiate a longer-term deal, but the starting point is based on the franchise tag value.
2022 Projected Non-Exclusive Franchise and Transition Tenders
Position Franchise Tag Transition Tag
QB $28,598,000 $25,651,000
DE $20,186,000 $16,623,000
WR $19,127,000 $16,740,000
LB $17,417,000 $14,882,000
CB $17,295,000 $14,904,000
DT $16,888,000 $13,596,000
OL $16,698,000 $14,997,000
S $13,544,000 $11,265,000
RB $12,536,000 $10,148,000
TE $10,834,000 $9,332,000
ST $5,469,000 $4,980,000
A non-exclusive franchise tag on a defensive end like Clowney would cost the Browns at least $20.2 million. Conversely, if exercised on a tight end like Njoku, the cost is only $10.8 million. That represents a savings of 46.5 percent.
The non-exclusive tag allows the player to go sign a deal with another club in excess of the franchise tag value, but the Browns get to match the deal. The other team then has the option to keep the deal in force, but they would have to compensate the Browns with two first-round draft picks.
Briefly, there are three ways to tag a player: the non-exclusive tag, the exclusive tag, and the transition tag.
The non-exclusive tag is based on the average top five salaries at the player’s position. This is calculated as a percentage of the salary cap over the past five seasons, and that percentage is taken for the current season’s salary cap. The player is still allowed to negotiate with other teams, but the original team is allowed to have the opportunity to match.
If the original team matches, the new team can then offer two first-round draft picks to complete the deal. That almost never happens though. Sean Gilbert was the last in 1998.
The exclusive tag is very similar except that other teams are not allowed to match. However, the salaries are determined by the current year’s top five, so the salaries will be somewhat higher. They will be determined when the free-agent season is over.
We don’t know what they are yet, but they will be significantly higher than the non-exclusive tag numbers because there has been extra money added back to the cap allowance due to the alleviation of the Covid situation. The Cowboys used the exclusive tag on Dak Prescott two seasons ago. Teams would be probably unwise to use the exclusive tag this year.
The third form of the tag is the transition tag. This has a lower buy-in value, based on the top 10 salaries rather than the top five. The original team is allowed to match, but does not get draft pick compensation. The Browns used this technique to re-sign Alex Mack, although he eventually wound up negotiating his free agency anyway. The transition tag is rarely used, but not a bad way to establish fair value, when the original team is interested in keeping the player long term.
The franchise tag system is kind of a farce, like most contract negotiations in sports. The theory is that it’s supposed to allow poor little NFL cities like tiny Green Bay, Wisconsin to save their favorite superstar from being poached by the big, bad, rich teams like the Dallas Cowboys or Washington Commanders (or Commies, as they are affectionately becoming known by their caring fans). In reality, it is just a way to threaten star players and their agents to behave at the contract table.
A case can be made for either David Njoku or Jadeveon Clowney. Both are very good players who will at least be worth compensatory draft picks. Others who might be worth a pick are discussed on page 4 of of this article.
They could include Ronnie Harrison, M.J. Stewart, and Takkarist McKinley. However, Takk-Mac is out for a while with a ruptured Achilles tendon, which is considered to be career-threatening. Grant Delpit came back from that injury, but honestly, that kid looked like a Pro Bowler prior to the injury, and it’s not certain how much of him was left on the athletic field that day. Keep sending positive thoughts, prayers, and encouragement his way.