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New CBA would give first-rounders a path to fifth-year franchise tag

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The NFL and the NFLPA are currently in talks about a new collective bargaining agreement that includes the possibility of a 17-game regular season.

Despite repeated and historical complaints regarding the franchise tag, the device for keeping otherwise unrestricted free agents in place is going nowhere. But there’s one potential tweak in the new (if it happens) labor deal regarding the franchise tag that some players will welcome.

Per multiple sources, the proposed CBA would give first-round picks an escape hatch from the fifth-year option as currently calculated. If a first-round pick makes it to the Pro Bowl twice in his first three seasons, the amount of the fifth-year option would spike to the franchise tag for his position.

Players in the top 10 currently receive as a fifth-year option the transition tender applicable to their position for the prior year. For a player like cornerback Jalen Ramsey (fourth overall), that’s $13.7 million. The projected 2020 franchise tender for cornerbacks is $16.4 million. (Ramsey would have qualified for the higher fifth-year option.)

The difference is even more pronounced for players not taken in the top 10. Bengals cornerback William Jackson, the 24th pick in 2016, is due to make $9.954 million under the formula for non-top-10 picks. With at least two Pro Bowls in his first three years, he’d be in line for $16.4 million instead. (Jackson did not qualify for two Pro Bowls in his first three seasons, however.)

A separate benefit comes the year after the rookie deal expires. With the franchise tender as the fifth-year salary, the player would get a 20-percent bump, if franchise-tagged in year six. That would push a cornerback to $19.68 million, significantly more than the franchise tag at the position for 2020 -- barring an explosion in the salary cap. (It’s unclear whether the escalation of the fifth-year option payment to the franchise-tag amount also would count as an application of the franchise tag. After two career applications of the franchise tag, the player is entitled to a 44-percent increase over his prior-year cap number if/when tagged a third time.)

This is just another one of the terms that the players will get, if they agree to play 17 games. The biggest question remains whether they’ll agree to play 17 games.