Transition Tag Could Lead to Large Extension for Patriots Star Safety

Kyle Dugger

Getty Images Kyle Dugger

The New England Patriots have taken a strategic and unique step to secure safety Kyle Dugger’s future with the team. Dugger, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent later this month, has been designated with the transition tag by the Patriots. This decision was made on the final day for NFL teams to tag players, with ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler breaking the news and NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport later confirming the move. Per reports, the Patriots had already extended a contract extension to Dugger before applying the franchise tag.

According to the NFL collective bargaining agreement, teams can only use one franchise or transition tag per offseason. As a result, the tagging of Dugger implies that versatile offensive lineman Mike Onwenu will reach free agency unless he and the Patriots reach a long-term agreement before the deadline on March 13th. Patriots’ scouting director, Eliot Wolf, has already expressed his eagerness to resign Onwenu.

Understanding the Transition Tag

Under the transition tag, Dugger is entitled to a one-year salary of $13.8 million, a substantial figure for safeties in the league. However, unlike the exclusive or non-exclusive franchise tags, players under the transition tag can negotiate with other teams during free agency. Should Dugger receive an offer from another team, the Patriots can match it. However, if they choose not to match the offer, they will not receive draft-pick compensation, as would be the case with the non-exclusive franchise tag. Herein lies the risk/ reward of the transition tag.

When a player signs a contract after being designated with the transition tag, it restricts the original team from utilizing the tag on any player again until the contract term has concluded. However, there is an exception to this rule. If the player signs a transition offer sheet, essentially a one-year contract, the team can still use the transition tag on another player. This one-year contract is valued at either the average salary of the top ten players in the league at the player’s position or a twenty percent salary increase, whichever amount is greater.

Although most NFL fans are familiar with the exclusive and non-exclusive franchise tags, the transition tag is less common and seldom used. Only five players have received the transition tag over the last decade, underscoring its rarity.

Will The Patriots Sign Dugger to a Long-Term Extension?

The Patriots’ decision to employ the transition tag on Dugger reflects how the Patriot’s coaching staff and front office value Dugger’s ability in the defensive secondary. With 52 starts in 61 appearances, Dugger has tallied excellent stats on the Patriots’ defensive unit, including 343 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and nine interceptions. In 2023, Dugger played a team-high 1,115 defensive snaps. Head coach Jerod Mayo’s remarks about the transition tag shed light on the team’s strategy and its implications for Dugger’s future with the Patriots.

“Kyle is a talented player with a strong work ethic who has improved every year and been extremely productive since joining our team in 2020. We value players with high character and chose to use the transition designation to give both sides more time to try to reach a long-term agreement, which is our goal with Kyle.” – Patriots head coach Jared Mayo

The decision to tag Dugger not only enhances the likelihood of him staying in New England but also provides both parties additional time to negotiate a new deal. While the Patriots may be inclined to match certain external offers for Dugger, there remains the possibility that if the price becomes too steep, the 27-year-old could depart from New England.