On Tuesday the Bears can fix a franchise tag to wide receiver Allen Robinson and it seems inevitable at the moment, if not on that day then sometime before the March 9 deadline for tags to be applied.
What it means is Robinson is not really an unrestricted free agent when free agency begins March 17. Players hate this restriction on their ability to obtain fair-market value.
If Robinson receives exclusive franchise designation, it means other teams cannot negotiate with him at the outset of free agency. The Bears would have the ability to negotiate a long-term deal with him until mid-July, and then after that he would have to either play for the franchise tender or decide he's sitting out the season without pay.
If he is designated a non-exclusive franchise tag, Robinson is allowed to negotiate with other teams. If they make Robinson an offer, the Bears decide whether to match it. If the Bears don't match it, the offering team gets Robinson but then must give the Bears two first-round draft picks.
If tagged, Robinson would make 120% of his 2020 cap hit, which was $15 million. So he'd get about $18 million for 2021.
The other ramification of Robinson being tagged is the Bears can anticipate he will miss every bit of offseason work from conditioning in April to OTAs in May and June to June minicamp.
Players without contracts are not required to participate and a franchised player negotiating a deal doesn't have a contract.
It's difficult to say where it could all lead. Tags are sometimes used to set up trades, and sometimes simply to retain a player so more talks can continue.
The Bears have used these tags like any other team has, but haven't abused them over the years.
In fact, if Robinson is tagged he will be the third player to be tagged since Ryan Pace became GM but first to have a franchise designation since Alshon Jeffer. Here is how Bears taggings went through the years.
Kyle Fuller received the transition free agent tag after the Bears decided not to pick up his fifth-year option. The transition tag is a less-restrictive version of the franchise tag which pays the player less, gives the team a right of first refusal but no compensation. The Green Bay Packers called the Bears' bluff and signed Fuller to a four-year, $56 million offer sheet. Fuller was slated to get almost $13 million for 2018 under the transition tag if the Packers hadn't signed him to the offer sheet. The Bears didn't want to lose him after a breakthrough 2017 season, so they matched the Packers' offer, locking Fuller up through 2021. It proved a wise move as Fuller went to consecutive Pro Bowls in 2018 and 2019.
After leading the Bears in receptions with 54, Alshon Jeffery received a non-exclusive franchise tag. No team made an offer and he played the year for $14.6 million, then left for the Eagles when the Bears didn't get him a contract or tag him again for 2017. Jeffery seemed to relish burning the Bears when he had the chance after this, particularly in the 2018 playoffs when he had six catches for 82 yards and a touchdown.
Henry Melton actually got tagged. Yes, GM Phil Emery franchise-tagged a defensive lineman who had 22 1/2 sacks his first three seasons as the three-technique replacement for Tommy Harris. Melton was a college running back/fullback who converted at Texas to defensive line his final two seasons. He fit well in Lovie Smith's scheme but was definitely no Harris. By 2013 the scheme had been altered under Mel Tucker. Still, Melton is a tragic figure in Bears lore and also in the entire tagging process. Melton didn't like the contract offers from the Bears and they placed a franchise tag on him for about $8.45 million that season. He didn't like the offers for a long-term deal and decided he would play under the tag, then suffered a torn ACL in the third game. The Bears didn't try to sign him to another deal after the season. Melton played a year with Dallas and one with Tampa Bay when he was able to play in Smith's defense again, and then his career ended when the Buccaneers didn't bring him back after a one-year, $3.75 million deal. Denver signed him in 2016 but he never played for the Broncos.
Linebacker Lance Briggs engaged in some very public and heated talks with the Bears during the era of GM Jerry Angelo. Teammate Brian Urlacher was even talking about giving up some money to help the Bears keep Briggs, his weak-side linebacker sidekick in the 4-3 Lovie Smith defensive scheme. The Bears franchise-tagged Briggs at a rate of $7.2 million after the Super Bowl XLI loss and Briggs said, "I am now prepared to sit out the year if the Bears don't trade me or release me. I've played my last snap for them. I'll never play another down for Chicago again." He did, though. They signed him to a new six-year, $36 million deal in March of 2008 after he played the 2007 season on the franchise tender.
The late Bryan Robinson received a transition tag for $4.177 million in 2001 and played into the season on it, but the Bears reached agreement on a five-year, $19.75 million deal for him near the end of the season.
Running back Raymont Harris, the self-designated "ultra back," was given the transition tag with a $2.46 million tender. Then Bears personnel boss Mark Hatley pulled off the tag and let Harris leave in free agency. Harris had only 92 more carries in his career after signing with Green Bay and then splitting time between Denver and New England in 2000.
Cornerback Donnell Woolford was a recipient of the transition tag but reached an agreement on a new deal estimated at just over $3 million for three years.