What is the NFL's transition tag and how is it applied?

The NFL's wide array of designations can make it confusing to know what each one means.

Super Bowl LVIII - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs
Super Bowl LVIII - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs / Ryan Kang/GettyImages

As much as players in the National Football League dream of hitting free agency so they can cash in on generational wealth and control their market for the first time, NFL teams will often push back with equal force. After all, it's in the team's best interests to keep as much cost-controlled talent as they can to stay competitive under the salary cap.

While NFL teams are limited in their ability to keep players from hitting free agency, there are various tags that can be used to limit some options for the best players who could leave. Alongside the franchise tag is the lesser-used (and understood) transition tag in a franchise's arsenal of potential moves.

The transition tag is a designation for a team to apply to a player scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. The tag allows the team to retain the right of first refusal on any contract offer the player receives from another franchise. Unlike a franchise tag which limits negotiation with any other team, this allows for such exchanges to at least set a market rate.

Having a right of first refusal means that if a player negotiates a contract with another team and signs an offer sheet, his original team has the option to match the terms of that offer to keep the player.

If a player is given a transition tag but does not reach an agreement with a new team, the player is given a one-year tender. His salary is determined by the average of the top 10 salaries at the player's position from the previous season—or 120% of the player's previous year's salary—whichever is greater.

Here are the projected amounts for each position on a transition tag for 2024 (via Over the Cap):

  • Quarterbacks: $31.2M
  • Running Backs: $10.1M
  • Wide Receivers: $19.4M
  • Tight Ends: $10.6M
  • Offensive Line: $19.7M
  • Defensive End: $20.1M
  • Defensive Tackle: $15.8M
  • Linebackers: $18.6M
  • Cornerbacks: $15.9M
  • Safeties: $14.0M
  • Special Teams: $5.3M

The transition tag is a tool that allows teams to protect their interests in retaining key players while providing some flexibility in negotiations. It is worth noting that the transition tag is different from the franchise tag, which provides a higher level of compensation to the player but also comes with a higher one-year salary for the team.