The two-week NFL window for teams to hold onto pending free agents by using the franchise and transition tags opened on Tuesday.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, that means the team has an opportunity to ensure that at least one of their five defensive starters or co-starters that is set to become a free agent remains in Pittsburgh in 2023, but the tags can come with a prohibitive cost.
The window to tag players runs from Tuesday through March 7, which is one week ahead of the start of the free agent contact period.
The Steelers have six starters or co-starters that could be candidates to be tagged: defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, linebackers Devin Bush and Robert Spillane, cornerback Cam Sutton and strong safety Terrell Edmunds.
An exclusive franchise tag gives the player a one-year deal for the average of the top five salaries of the players at his position in the current or 120% of his previous-year’s salary. Players with an exclusive tag cannot negotiate with other teams. None of the Steelers’ pending free agents are likely to be candidates for an exclusive tag.
A non-exclusive franchise tag gives the player a one-year contract for the average of the top five salaries at his position over the previous five seasons, or 120% of the previous-year salary. Players with a non-exclusive franchise tag can negotiate with other teams. If a player agrees to a contract with another team, the tagging team has the right to match. If they choose not to match, they receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.
A transition tag is a one-year contract offer that pays the average of the top 10 salaries at his position in the prior season, or 120% of the previous year’s salary. A transition-tagged player can negotiate with other teams. The tagging club has the right to match any other offer, but does not get any compensation if it chooses not to match.
Here is what it would cost the Steelers to tag each of their starter free agents:
DT LARRY OGUNJOBI
Franchise: $18.937 million
Transition: $16.068 million
2022 cap hit: $8 million
LBs DEVIN BUSH, ROBERT SPILLANE
Franchise: $20.926 million
Transition: $17.478 million
2022 cap hit: Bush $6.005 million, Spillane $2.433 million
S TERRELL EDMUNDS
Franchise: $14.460 million
Transition: $11.867 million
2022 cap hit: $1.188 million
CB CAM SUTTON
Franchise: $18.140 million
Transition: $15.791 million
2022 cap hit: $5.2 million plus $2.1 million dead cap hit in 2023
Salary figures from OvertheCap.com
Tagged players do not have to sign the offered contract, as Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell chose when he sat out the 2018 season. The team and the tagged player have until th July 15 to work out an extension instead of the offered contract. Once the player signs the tag, the contract is fully guaranteed.
The Steelers haven’t used a franchise tag since Bud Dupree played out the 2020 season under the tag. After that, Dupree left if free agency for the Tennessee Titans in the 2021 season. The Steelers tagged Bell in 2017 and 2018, but Bell opted not to sign his second franchise tender, sitting out the entire season before leaving for the New York Jets in free agency.