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Former Utes safety Marcus Williams is franchise tagged by New Orleans Saints. What does that mean?

The New Orleans Saints have placed the franchise tag on free safety Marcus Williams, general manager Mickey Loomis announced on Tuesday, March 9, 2021.
Butch Dill, Associated Press

Former Utah Utes safety Marcus Williams will be staying with the New Orleans Saints organization for at least one more year.

The Saints announced Tuesday that they have placed the franchise tag on the veteran defender. That keeps Williams, who was set to become a free agent when the new NFL league year begins March 17, with the franchise for the 2021 season.

What’s a franchise tag?

NFL teams are permitted to use a franchise tag on one pending free agent each year to tender that player on a one-year deal worth a salary comparable to what the top players at their position earn. The tags come in two forms, exclusive and nonexclusive.

The nonexclusive franchise tag is the most commonly used tag and is “a one-year tender of 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,” per NFL.com. Unlike the exclusive tag, a player under the nonexclusive tag can negotiate with other teams, and their current team can match any offer or receive compensation (two first-round picks) if the player signs with another team, as explained by NFL.com.

An exclusive franchise tag, meanwhile, is “a one-year tender offer of 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.” Those players designated with the exclusive franchise tag cannot negotiate with other teams.

Tuesday was the deadline for NFL teams to use the franchise tag, and 10 players had the franchise tag placed on them.

What salary should Williams expect?

The NFL’s salary cap isn’t officially set for the 2021 season, meaning financial figures aren’t finalized. Williams is projected to make around $10.496 million in 2021, per NFL.com.

Williams has started at free safety in every game he’s played for New Orleans since the team selected him in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft. He has 237 career tackles, one sack, 13 interceptions (returning one for a touchdown), 28 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Williams’ franchise tag designation was seen as a surprise, in large part because New Orleans is projected to be the most over the salary cap team in the NFL. The Saints are currently projected to be more than $58 million over, per overthecap.com.

USA Today’s Nate Davis tabbed the Saints’ salary cap one of the losers of the franchise tag deadline: “They’ve been steadily working their way down from a cap deficit that was in the nine-figure range at one point. Pretty surprising choice to tag Marcus Williams for a team that still needs to shave about $60 million and presumably re-sign QB Jameis Winston.”

Don’t let that be an indictment, though, of Williams.

“Williams was our 14th ranked free agent and 2nd safety on the board so he fits the profile of a franchise player, but the team is not in a position to do this,” overthecap.com’s Jason Fitzgerald wrote. “The tag here may indicate that the sides are close to a contract extension because it will be difficult to carry him at this figure.”