The NFL franchise tag was set into place by the league to allow for teams to hold on to one of their top talents. Usually a top-flight player gets saddled with a franchise tag if the team needs some more time to negotiate a long term contract with the player, or to buy some time so that the team's salary cap issues get better settled from prior year commitments still on the books.
Originally the idea was to not have the NFL turn into Major League Baseball, where bigger market franchises with more money scooped up smaller market teams' clear best players. It is a system to help keep the league talent spread and more even. Typically, a wide receiver, quarterback, tight end or running back gets the tag. These positions are hard positions to negotiate long term contracts, and are usually very costly to do so. Teams can only designate one player per year for the tag.
In the player's favor however, if he does get tagged and plays out the following season without a long term contract deal, the player will receive a very high salary for the locked in year. Per SBNation
Each team is given one franchise tag to use per season, and it locks in a player for one year. For that year, he'll earn either an average of the top five salaries at his position, or 120 percent of his salary from the season before, depending on which one is larger.
For wide receivers going into the 2015-2016 season, that amount is about $12.8 million. For a single season. And as long as that player doesn't get hurt, they are fully capable of getting that amount (and possibly more as it keeps escalating with salary cap increases) every year, if the team continues to tag them, until a long term contract is arranged.
Teams do this to make the overall team better. Sure, they could likely and theoretically afford to pay above pictured Dez Bryant $16 million a year over the next say 6 seasons, agreeing to a long term contract of $96 million, with lets say $32 million or 2 years guaranteed. But that would mean that $3 million + would be taken from their overall salary limit that can be spent elsewhere on the team, to make other positions better. It's called making a small sacrifice to make the team overall better. Being a team player, as it were. And a small sacrifice it is, in my opinion. Especially if your team can build a better defense, in the Dallas Cowboy's example, and then maybe Dez and company could find themselves going much further into next year's playoffs. (which in turn itself brings bonuses and more money and acclaim)
The one complaint of course that Dez or any other player has about being tagged is that they fear getting hurt, and having their value for the next season either drop dramatically, or disappear completely if the injury is career ending. And that is a legitimate concern. But consider the above deal for Dez. He would have only been guaranteed for one extra year anyways (which is typical). Granted we are talking about almost $19 million that the wideout can guarantee himself upon hearing the news, as his head hits the pillow at night.
But then again, the gap difference is only insurance upon the circumstance that he isn't playing AT ALL and is simply soaking in millions of dollars based upon an inflated contract. Something about that rubs me and many others the wrong way. Why would you want to bank upon that guarantee? If you get hurt, should you honestly be paid millions just cause?
I say that if you are a star player, and find yourself with the franchise tag situation, please shut up and be understanding that the tag is not a personal insult to you, or your talent. This message is currently going out to Dez Bryant, but he is far from the only guy to ever present a bad attitude
toward the idea of being franchise tagged.