One of the first things about which many fans speculate and debate every offseason is which players will be retained or released by teams, and where free agents could potentially land. But not everyone truly understands what is going on in regards to free agents, franchise tags, and the like.
This is the second of a four-part series intended to educate our fans about what exactly will be happening over the next several months, in regards to free agency. The included questions and answers are taken directly from an NFL release.
Q. What is the difference between a Restricted Free Agent and an Unrestricted Free Agent?
A. In the 2014 League Year, players with three accrued seasons become Restricted Free Agents when their contracts expire at the conclusion of the 2013 League Year. Unrestricted Free Agents have completed four or more accrued seasons. An Unrestricted Free Agent is free to sign with any club with no draft choice compensation owed to his old club.
Q. What constitutes an "Accrued Season"?
A. Six or more regular-season games on a club's active/inactive, reserved/injured or reserve/physically unable to perform lists.
Q. What could restrict the ability of a Restricted Free Agent to sign with a new club?
A. If he has received a "qualifying offer" (a salary tender predetermined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players) from his old club. He can negotiate with any club through May 2. If the Restricted Free Agent signs an offer sheet with a new club, his old club can match the offer and retain him because the qualifying offer entitles it to a "right of first refusal" on any offer sheet the player signs. If the old club does not match the offer, it may receive draft choice compensation depending on the amount of its qualifying offer. If an offer sheet is not executed on or before May 2, the player's negotiating rights revert exclusively to his old club. In addition, a player who would otherwise be a Restricted Free Agent may be designated by his old club as its Franchise Player or Transition Player. No Restricted Free Agents were designated as Franchise or Transition players this year.
Q. What determines an Unrestricted Free Agent?
A. A player with four or more accrued seasons whose contract has expired. He is free to sign with any club, with no draft choice compensation owed to his old club, through July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later). At that point, his negotiating rights revert exclusively to his old club if by June 1 the old club tendered the player a one-year contract for 110 percent of his prior year's salary. His old club then has until the Tuesday following the 10th week of the regular season (November 11) to sign him. If he does not sign by that date, he must sit out the season. If no tender is offered by June 1, the player can be signed by any club at any time throughout the season.
Part I: Introduction
Part II: Restricted and Unrestricted Free Agents
Next Up: Franchise and Transition Players
Part IV: Salary Caps