A little over a week ago, San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch was asked about Arik Armstead’s contract situation, to which he said: “Arik is an excellent player. He had an excellent year. I think everything is on the table. We want to find a way to keep him and make him a part of the 49ers for a long time.” Excellent is a great way to describe Armstead, who was arguably the best player on one of the best defenses in recent history. Those are the types of guys you pay. How much is too much, though?
On his recent podcast, David Lombardi of The Athletic mentioned the possibility of Armstead getting a Non-Exclusive franchise tag. That means the 49ers would pay Armstead just shy of $18 million in 2020. If Armstead were to get an offer sheet, San Francisco has the option to match. If the 49ers choose not to match the offer from the opposing team, then they’d receive two first-round picks from the said team.
The cost, the position, and the tag
A non-exclusive tag is slightly cheaper than what the exclusive tag would cost. This time last year, that number was $17.2 million for the same tag when the cap was $188.2 million. Assuming the cap goes up to around $200 million, that’s where the $18 million-ish per year comes from. If I’m doing this right, you take the top five salaries from all edge rushers, and that’s where the figure comes from.
Some have mentioned the 49ers should tag Armstead as a defensive tackle. Armstead played 60% of his snaps on the edge, which means if San Francisco chooses to tag him, it’ll be on the edge. We should also note that just because a player is franchise tagged, that doesn’t mean both sides can’t work out a long-term deal. That situation is more likely than a team giving up two first-rounders. I wouldn’t call it desperate, but that’s something you do for the Von Millers’ of the world. The guys that are one of one. Armstead was great, but he was closer to top-10 than top-five if that makes sense.
February 25 is the first date that teams can franchise players. Here is the difference, by definition, between a non-exclusive and exclusive franchise tag:
Non-exclusive franchise tag: This is the most commonly used tag. When commentators colloquially refer to the “franchise tag” they are generally talking about the non-exclusive version. This is a one-year tender offer for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position over the last five years, or 120 percent of his previous salary, whichever is greater. The player can negotiate with other teams. The player’s current team has the right to match any offer, or receive two first-round draft picks as compensation if he signs with another organization.
This was the tag we were discussing above. Now, the “exclusive” franchise tag:
Exclusive franchise tag: A one-year tender offer to a player for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position for the current year, or 120 percent of his previous salary, whichever is greater. The player cannot negotiate with another team. The bump in pay scale (current average salary versus averaging of the previous five years) means only the very best receive this tag — players for whom teams would gladly give up two first-round picks to sign. Generally, QBs are the most likely to receive an exclusive tag, but the Pittsburgh Steelers used it on running back Le’Veon Bell in 2018.
If the 49ers tag Armstead with the exclusive franchise tag, that means they plan on keeping Armstead and believe he is the real deal. Players can’t negotiate with other teams, and a pay bump since the average salary would be for only last season, instead of including the previous four seasons when the salary cap was lower each year.