With the NFL in the middle of their 2020 Free Agency, I thought it would be appropriate to break down the new CBA’s Article 9: Veteran Free Agency provision. Why? I have two answers. (1) I felt football fans deserve to have information and knowledge dispensed to them with ease of comprehension without all the legal jargon the CBA possesses. (2) I had nothing better to do, and I am here for you! Now that I have disclosed that, let’s jump right in for an easy to understand free agency explanation under the new CBA.
Let’s start with the basics for any rookie football fans out there. For veteran readers, this will be a nice review. Trust the process; we’ll get through this together.
What is Free Agency? Simply put, it is a time when veteran players have expired contracts, and they can either be resigned with their current team or sign with another NFL team. Additionally, it officially starts the new NFL season (league year), which occurs mid-March. The official start of the 2020 league year was March 18th. However, the “unofficial-but-true” start of free agency is the legal tampering period, which begun March 16th.
What is Legal Tampering? The NFL allows a two-day window for teams to speak with free agents and their representatives to discuss potential terms. They can come to verbal agreements on a contract, but it can’t be signed or official until the “true” start of the new league year on March 18th at 4 p.m. ET.
What is an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA)? Any player that has played for four (4) or more seasons will, at the expiration of his contract, become an Unrestricted Free Agent. This player is completely free to negotiate and sign with any team, and any team is completely free to negotiate and sign any player within the signing period without penalty or restrictions.
What is a Signing Period? Unrestricted Free Agents have until July 22nd or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, which is later, to sign with their current or new team. If players do not sign with their current or new team by that time, they have until the tenth (10th) week of the regular season, by 4 p.m. ET, to ONLY have the option of signing with their prior team. Additionally, ONLY if the prior team has offered the player a one-year contract ,by the Monday following the final day of the NFL Draft for that league year, of at least 110% of either (a) his prior year salary (if his expiring contract is NOT a rookie contract), or (b) his Paragraph 5 Salary (if his expiring contract IS a rookie contract; cannot be renegotiated), which is roster and reporting bonuses, and pro-rata portion of signing bonuses. Phew! Still with me? If an Unrestricted Free Agent has not signed a contract by the Tuesday following the tenth (10th) week of the regular season, at 4 p.m. ET, the player cannot be signed or play football for the remainder of that league year. If that Unrestricted Free Agent does not play for the remainder of the league year, the player is free to negotiate and sign a contract with any team, and any team is completely free to negotiate and sign a player contract with such player, without penalty or restriction, ONLY during the commencement of the first day of the following league year.
What is a Restricted Free Agent (RFA)? Any veteran player that has accrued three seasons only shall, at the end of his contract, become a Restricted Free Agent. Such player is completely free to negotiate and sign a contract with any team, and any team is completely free to negotiate and sign a contract with any such player, but with restrictions! Oh, no! Just when I thought this was going smoothly. This where things get dicey and complicated. My mission is to keep things simple and basic, so I am going to provide a more comprehensible explanation by Anthony Holzman-Escareno from NFL.com that shares the X’s and O’s of RFA’s. Once a player is deemed a RFA, their original team can offer them one of various qualifying offers (“tenders”) that come with right of first refusal and/or draft-pick compensation. If the tender is withdrawn by a team, the Restricted Free Agent becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent. In 2020, teams must submit these offers before 4 p.m. ET on March 18th. These amounts change annually; the following numbers are for the 2020 season. Players can choose either (a) or (b) regardless of which is greater in the applicable tenders below.
The RFA tenders are classified as follows:
First-Round Tender: One-year contract worth the greater of (a) $4.641 million or (b) 110 percent of the player’s prior-year base salary. If the player’s original team decides not to match an offer sheet signed with another team, it is entitled to a first-round draft pick from the player’s new team. Unless received two days or later prior to the NFL draft, draft compensation for each tender is due in the same league year as the offer sheet is signed.
A signed offer sheet with a new team includes Principal Terms that must be matched by the prior club. However, if the new team includes terms that waive or limit its ability to designate the RFA a franchise player, the old team will not have to match this term if it has tendered the player with an offer worth $500,000 more than the first-round tender ($5.141 million in 2020).
Second-Round Tender: One-year contract worth the greater of (a) $3.259 million or (b) 110 percent of the player’s prior-year base salary. Draft choice compensation: second-round pick.
Original-Round Tender: One-year contract worth the greater of (a) $2.133 million or (b) 110 percent of the player’s prior-year base salary. Draft choice compensation: a pick in the round the player was originally drafted in.
Right-Of-First-Refusal Tender: One-year contract worth $2.133. Original team has the right to match any offer sheet signed with another team, but there is no draft compensation tied to this tender.
What is Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA): Any player with fewer than three accrued seasons and an expired contract. If his original team offers him a one-year contract at the league minimum (based on his credited seasons), the player cannot negotiate with other teams.
What is an Accrued Season: Used to determine a player’s free agency status (unrestricted, restricted, exclusive rights). In order to accrue a season, a player must have been on full-play status for at least six regular-season games in a given season. A player under contract must report to his team’s training camp on his mandatory reporting date in order to earn an accrued season. If players hold out their services for a “material period of time, ” he is also at risk of not accruing a season.
What is a Credited Season: Used as a measure for many benefits, it’s most notably utilized to determine a player’s minimum salary. To earn a credited season, a player must be on (or should have been on) full-pay status for a total of three or more regular season games.
Minimum salaries in 2020 based on Credited Seasons (CS):
- 0 CS: $610,000
- 1 CS: $675,000
- 2 CS: $750,000
- 3 CS: $825,000
- 4-6 CS: $910,000
- 7+ CS: $1,050,000
Well, there you have it. Everything the casual fan needs to know about NFL Free Agency; the basic terminology, lingo, and explanation in accordance to the new CBA. If you’re head is spinning, you’re not alone. Remember, trust the process.