In 2011, the National Football League Player’s Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith stated that the average career of an NFL player is 3.2 years. ((What is average NFL player’s career length? Longer than you might think, Commissioner Goodell says, NFL Communications (April 18, 2011) http://nflcommunications.com/2011/04/18/what-is-average-nfl-player’s-career-length-longer-than-you-might-think-commissioner-goodell-says/.)) NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell believes the inclusion of “a lot of players who don’t make an NFL roster… brings down the average.” ((Id.)) The average career for a player who makes a club’s opening-day roster in his rookie season is 6 years and the average for first-round draft picks is 9.3 years. ((Id.)) Regardless, with the average retirement age among current retirees at sixty-two, the playing career of a player in the NFL is objectively shorter than most professional careers. ((Emily Brandon, The Ideal Retirement Age – And Why You Won’t Retire Then, U.S. News Money (May 12, 2014, 9:25 AM), http://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/articles/2014/05/12/the-ideal-retirement-age-and-why-you-wont-retire-then.html.)) Irrespective of your stance on the considerably large salaries professional athletes earn, it is inarguable that they have a very short time frame to maximize their earnings. The Franchise Tag is seemingly an obstacle to maximizing their earnings. In the first part of this two-part blog series I will explain the Franchise Tag and the limitations it places on players. In the second part I will explain how uniquely situated players may be able to use the Franchise Tag to their advantage.
Each League Year, a club can Franchise Tag one of its players who would otherwise be an Unrestricted or Restricted Free Agent, giving the club sole negotiating rights (exclusive) or first right of refusal (nonexclusive) in the player’s contract for the upcoming season. ((2011 Nat’l Football League Collective Bargaining Agreement art. 10 (Aug. 4, 2011).)) The designating club tenders the player a one-year contract at the amount calculated pursuant to the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). ((Id.)) Once the player signs the tender, the contract is fully guaranteed for injury, skill, and cap. ((Id.)) However, with drafted rookie contracts fixed at four years (potentially five for first-round picks) and the rookie pay scale limiting the amounts earnable in these first contracts, many players would prefer not to be designated, thus enabling them to enter free agency and potentially sign a multiyear contract, with a greater amount guaranteed, with any team. ((Id. at art. 7.)) The designated player’s options are further limited as the designating club has the ability to tag the player a second and third time, albeit for larger amounts. ((Id. at art. 10)) Thus a first-round draft pick could potentially not enter free agency until after his 8th season. Despite the fact that the player’s former contract with the designating club has expired, the player cannot object to these limitations as his previous contract expressly “waives and releases…any antitrust claims relating to…restrictions on free agency, franchise player designations…and any claims relating to conduct engaged in pursuant to the express terms of any collective bargaining agreement during the term of any such agreement.” ((Id. at appx. A.)) A common technique utilized by designated players to combat the tag is to threaten to “holdout” and not play for the designating club unless the parties agree to a long-term contract. However, after 3:59 p.m., New York time, on July 15th of the League Year the player was designated, the parties cannot sign a multiyear contract in that League Year. ((Id. at art. 10.)) For example, even if the club and player both agreed to terms of a multiyear contract the day before the first regular season game, the CBA, and thus the League, would prohibit it.
Clubs like the Franchise Tag because it allows them to retain a valued player without being pressured into a long-term commitment. Many players, however, would prefer the liberty of not being subjected to such a limitation. In the next post I will address how some players may be able to use the perceived limitation to their advantage.
Charles Lilly III
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