Let’s Talk About Allen Robinson, the Bears, and the Franchise Tag

Yesterday, Allen Robinson opened a window into his offseason journey during an interview on Sirius XM NFL.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly good news for Bears fans hopeful to extend his presence in Chicago. Because while an open line of communication with the team is a good thing, Robinson also added that he hasn’t actually heard from the Bears (re: an extension) in quite a bit. And even though it may sound like good news when Robinson added that he remains open to anything this offseason, he made it clear that that also includes moving on from Chicago entirely. You’ll want to check out that post, if you haven’t already.

But even with all that aside, there’s a hang-up in Robinson’s situation that can be summed up in three words: The Franchise Tag. Let’s discuss.

So, How Does the Franchise Tag Work Anyway?

The Franchise Tag is a tool teams can use on unrestricted free agents to keep players on a one-year contract at a pre-determined rate. In its early days, the tag was used to limit player movement from small market teams that couldn’t afford to keep stand-out players to big-market behemoths who had no reservations about opening the vaults to pillage their small-market rivals. More recently, however, the tag is used as an option that extends the bargaining period for teams and players to reach multi-year deals. The two sides usually have until mid-July to come to an agreement. Otherwise, the player sticks around on a fully guaranteed one-year deal under the tag.

Using a $180.5 million projected salary cap, PFF’s Brad Spielberger estimates the receiver tag will be worth $15.808 million in 2021. Estimated tag values are based on 120 percent of the player’s previous year salary or the average of the top five salaries at a player’s position. But this estimation is unimportant to Robinson, who will have his own Franchise tag number.

Spielberger explains:

There’s no projection here, as Robinson would have his own franchise tag number because of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement. The tag number for each player is either the league-wide calculation for their respective position or 120% of the player’s prior-year salary — whichever is greater. Robinson’s “prior-year salary,” per the governing section of the CBA, is his full $15 million 2020 cap hit, so a tag of $18 million would come into play.

Should Robinson get tagged, it will come at a one-year cost of $18 million. Should extension talks resume between the Bears and Robinson, that $18 million numbers feels like a good place to start when it comes to negotiations.

The Three Tags

There are three types of tags teams can use this offseason:

⇒   Exclusive and Non-exclusive Franchise Tag
⇒   Transition Tag

Under the Exclusive tag, a player cannot negotiate a contract with any other teams that offseason. Because, duh, that’s what exclusivity means.

But under the Non-exclusive tag, players can negotiate with other teams. However, there are catches. Such as the player’s original team getting an opportunity to match the terms on a signed offer sheet. Secondly, if the original team is unable (or unwilling) to match the offer, then that team gets two first-round draft picks from the signing team. It’s a nice consolation, to be sure. But teams aren’t often willing to cough up two draft picks to sign away a free agent. Hence, it’s not something we see often.

Transition tags work similarly to the Franchise tag. Players receiving this tag receive one-year deals for the average of the top-10 salaries at their position. Additionally, designated Transition players can negotiate contracts with other teams, but still gives the original team the right of first refusal. But unlike the non-exclusive tag, there is no compensation if a team refuses to match the offer sheet.

Bears fans should be familiar with the Transition tag after the Packers sent an offer sheet to Kyle Fuller, which was matched almost immediately.

NOTE: Teams can designate Franchise or Transition players beginning on February 23rd and until 3pm on March 9th. Other important league/team dates can be found here.

Is Tag-to-Trade An Option?

Sure. And we have a recent example that we can use to talk through a tag-to-trade scenario.

Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry was a top-tier free-agent-to-be in 2018. But Landry never made it to the open market. Instead, Miami placed the Franchise tag on Landry in early March. And in so doing, opened up a window in which a trade could happen. The Dolphins used the tag in order to get some sort of immediate compensation for losing a talented receiver.

Six days later, Landry was traded to the Browns. The compensation? Adequate. But not game-changing. Cleveland sent a 2018 fourth-round pick and 2019 seventh-rounder to Miami to net Landry. Is that inspiring? Hardly. But remember that Robinson is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. And note how and has more positional versatility than Landry, who was primarily a slot receiver. So it’s not like it’s a one-for-one comp. Nevertheless, the Dolphins preferred getting two immediate picks in a trade rather than a potential compensatory pick a year later. That’s also worth keeping in mind.

Is It Too Late For An Extension?

I know better than to ever say never. But there’s not much incentive for Robinson to sign an extension that isn’t at his price tag this close to free agency. Nevertheless, he maintains there’s an open line of communication if the Bears want to reach him. But to this point, they’ve yet to do so.

Should both sides return to the bargaining table, I imagine that $18 million tag number, along with contracts signed by Keenan Allen, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Amari Cooper will enter the conversation. The Bears failed by not finishing a Robinson extension this time last year. And they have since fumbled the bag while watching Woods, Cooper, Kupp, and Allen sign deals that only raised the price tag. Robinson could feasibly ask for a contract with an AAV in the $20 million range. And because Robinson was wise enough to sign a short-term deal with a high AAV last time around, I can see him doing it again, thus positioning himself for another sizable contract after his age 30 or age 31 season.

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

written by

Luis C. Medina, who you can find on Twitter at lcm1986, has been covering the Chicago Bears at Bleacher Nation since 2017. Since then, he has written about 3 head coaches, 5 play-callers, and 11 starting quarterbacks. Previously, Luis wrote about the Cubs and MLB at BN (2015-16) and worked in the Chicago Tribune sports department (2011-16). He also co-hosted a Cubs postgame show, Outside the Ivy, in 2019.

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