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What is the NFL transition tag?

What is the transition tag that can be assigned to NFL players?

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A transition tag is a tool used by National Football League teams to retain unrestricted free agents. It guarantees the original club the right of first refusal to match any offer the player may make with another team. The transition tag can be used once a year by each club unless they elect to use a franchise tag instead. Transition tags can be rescinded; however, teams that rescind a transition tag cannot use it again until the next season.

If a player signs a contract after receiving the transition tag, his original team can not use the tag again on any player until the contract has expired. The exception is if the player first signs a transition offer sheet, which is a one-year contract equal to the average salary of the top ten players in the league at the player's position, or a twenty percent salary increase, whichever is greater. This contract was not historically guaranteed; however, it became guaranteed starting in 2007 per the collective bargaining agreement agreed to by the NFL owners and the NFLPA on March 8, 2006. If the player signs the offer sheet prior to a long-term contract, the player's team can then use the tag the next year.

If another club offers a contract to a transitioned player, his original club has seven days to decide whether to match that offer or not. If the original club agrees to match, the player is forced to sign with the original club at the terms agreed to in the offer by the other club. If the original club declines to match, the player signs with the other team, and the original team is offered no compensation, as they would be if the player had received the franchise tag.

The transition tag is rarely used by NFL franchises. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the one-year transition offer is typically a large amount, which could provide the club with difficulties while attempting to keep the team's aggregate salaries under the salary cap. The other is that players often react badly to receiving the tag, because it limits their ability to negotiate with other teams and therefore hinders their chances of receiving the largest possible contract. Players sometimes counter the tag by holding out or refusing to play for the club, creating distractions and headaches for the club.

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