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The future of the franchise tag could be bleak, for players

NFC's Newton of Carolina Panthers smiles after a play during the fourth quarter of the NFL Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu

NFC quarterback Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers smiles after a play during the fourth quarter of the NFL Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii January 29, 2012. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)


We explained earlier today that the franchise tags will be lower in 2012 than they were in 2011. The difference comes from a new formula for calculating the franchise tenders.

And while many believe that the new CBA sticks it to young players in the name of ensuring that more money will be available for veterans, the new formula for calculating the franchise tenders will consistently stick it to some of the most desirable veteran players in the game. Indeed, the franchise tender under the new CBA will have no direct connection to what the five highest-paid players in the game earn.

With the franchise tender determined by the average franchise tender for the last five years, the number will settle into a fairly narrow range that adjusts each year with the salary cap. As the top end of the free-agent market at each position grows in a given year, it will be diluted by the four years preceding the new high-water mark.

The only saving grace for some players is that the 120-percent clause still applies, which gives men like Mario Williams and, next year, Calvin Johnson the ability to earn well over twice what the franchise tender otherwise would be, thanks to the large cap numbers at the tail end of their top-five rookie deals.

And that’s where the process of sticking it to rookies and sticking it to franchise players will eventually collide.

When the 2011 draft picks become unrestricted free agents, guys like Cam Newton won’t have ridiculously high cap numbers in the final seasons of their contracts, thanks to the dramatic reduction in the value of the first-round rookie deals. Thus, in time, no player wrapping up his rookie deal will benefit from the 120-percent rule.

The only thing that protects franchise players from a career of the year-to-year franchise tender is that the procedures for using it a third straight time on the same player have changed. At that point, the player gets the average of the five highest-paid players at the quarterback position in the prior year or 120 percent of the average of the five highest-paid players at the player’s same position or 144 percent of his franchise tender for the prior year, whichever is greater.

Still, players who receive the franchise tender are in for some disappointment that will start in 2012 and continue each and every year of the 10-year labor deal.