The franchise tag is a tool that allows all 32 NFL teams the ability to safeguard their best player, or in their minds the best positional player that is extremely important to the future or strategic movement when building a championship franchise. Each team is assigned one tag per year.

The true definition of the franchise tag is a designation given to a player by an NFL franchise that guarantees the tagged player a one-year contract, the average of the top five highest-paid players at the same position, or 120 percent of the player’s previous contract year (whichever is greater).

The same player can be assigned the franchise tag two consecutive years. Tagging a player two consecutive seasons has caused tension between player and franchise, and the player agent against the team as well. The main reason for the friction: While the player receives a contract on par with the top five at his position, he is missing out on the big payday contract and large signing bonus that comes with the UFA (unrestricted free agent) contract, forcing him to stay with the same team, especially when the reasons for a player wanting to leave are not financial.

An NFL team can, at its own discretion, allow the franchise player to negotiate with several other clubs, but if they receive an offer sheet from anorther club and the original team does not match it, the first club is entitled to two first-round draft picks as compensation.

With the current CBA (collective bargaining agreement) labor issue expiring March 3, the NFL league office is communicating with its clubs, telling them they can place that designation on players whose contracts are expiring, even if there’s no new CBA currently in place.

The NFLPA mailed letters to all agents relaying the message that the NFL is wrong about that tag assignment. The union sent a letter to agents Thursday to tell them the NFL is wrong about that. DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA Executive Director, recently said, “Our position is that you can franchise anyone you want, by whatever you want, but if there is no CBA, the franchise tag will mean nothing. The NFL has no valid basis for claiming the right to franchise players in 2011.”

League spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press, “We are still operating under the current agreement, the franchise tag is always made before the start of the next league year. This is consistent with the past season.”

While the franchise tag is only the first of many matters for both the NFL and NFLPA to negotiate, some sources call it minor. Again, let’s touch upon the real issues that affect things from moving forward:

1. How to divide an estimated $9.3 billion in revenue and how much would be deducted from that amount for the players to share

2. 18-game regular season

3. Rookie wage scale

4. Benefits for present and retired players

5. Drug testing by independent source for HGH.

The window of opportunity is closing fast, the clock is ticking and the time is now for both sides to set down and hash this out like men.

When billions of dollars are involved, it really becomes an issue. Whether it’s church vs. state, or NFL vs. NFLPA, the root of all evil is the almighty dollar, and the folks making the other folks rich are the fans. That’s who will lose out in this tug of war over revenue.

Brace for the lockout. It’s coming, and the end result will be a bloody battle for both sides. Look for the owners to attack one another, and become divided among each other the longer this labor dispute drags out.

Key free agents that are highly possible “franchise tag” players that are extremely interesting:

Wide receiver Braylon Edwards, N.Y. Jets; wide receiver Santonio Holmes, N.Y. Jets; linebacker David Harris, N.Y. Jets; cornerback Antonio Cromartie, N.Y. Jets; wide receiver/kick returner Brad Smith, N.Y. Jets; guard Logan Mankins, New England OL.