NFL teams can begin using the franchise or transition tag Tuesday all the way through March 9, though it's almost a given the Miami Dolphins will not be going that route.
Each team is allowed to use one tag to either prevent a pending unrestricted free agent from negotiating with any other team (exclusive franchise tag) or to preserve the right of refusal and/or compensation (non-exclusive tag or transition tag).
But use of the tag comes at a hefty cost, a one-year guarantee at figures set once the salary cap is finalized, which is why it's usually reserved for elite-level players. The franchise tag numbers vary by position, with a projected figure of more than $24 million for quarterbacks in 2021, according to overthecap.com.
And the reality is that none of the Dolphins pending free agents are elite players.
The Dolphins have 13 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents with the start of the league year March 17: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB Matt Breida, RB DeAndre Washington, WR Isaiah Ford, WR Mack Hollins, T Julién Davenport, C Ted Karras, DT Davon Godchaux, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, LB Elandon Roberts, LB Vince Biegel, S Kavon Frazier and P Matt Haack.
Based on the projected figures, the lowest tender for any position player is over $10 million. Specialists have a projected franchise tag tender of around $4.8 million, which would more than double Haack's 2020 salary of $2.1 million.
The last time the Dolphins used a franchise tag was in 2018 with wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who Miami turned around and traded to the Cleveland Browns for a fourth-round pick in 2018 and a seventh-round pick in 2019.
The Dolphins turned those picks into Durham Smythe and Myles Gaskin, while Landry got a big contract extension with the Browns that Miami wasn't willing to give him.
Two years before, the Dolphins put the transition tag on defensive end Olivier Vernon, only to rescind it eight days later after they signed veteran Mario Williams as a free agent. That made Vernon an unrestricted free agent and he signed a five-year, $85 million contract with the New York Giants, for whom he played three seasons before being traded to the Browns.
Vernon has remained a very good player since leaving the Dolphins, though he has failed to play a complete season since his first year with the Giants in 2016.
In 2015, the Dolphins placed the transition tag on tight end Charles Clay, giving them the right to match any offer he received from another team. But Miami declined to do just that when Buffalo came in with a five-year deal worth $38 million.
In retrospect, this was the right call for the Dolphins. Clay had 69 and 58 catches his final two seasons in Miami but never matched those numbers for the Bills or the Arizona Cardinals after moving there and he also never matched his receiving yardage totals of those 2013 and 2014 seasons when he had 759 and 605 yards.
The Dolphins also used the franchise tag in 2011 and 2013 to keep defensive linemen Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, respectively, and they ended up signing another contract to stay in Miami the following year.
Soliai, in fact, made his one Pro Bowl appearance in 2011 after signing his franchise tag tender.