CBA 101: Free Agents

USA TODAY Sports

Part three in an ongoing series meant to demystify the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA in preparation for Free Agency and the 2014 NFL Draft.

This week we will be talking about free agents of three varieties: Unrestricted, Restricted, and Exclusive Rights.

Unrestricted Free Agents

You will remember that the Definitions article defined an Unrestricted Free Agent as a Veteran with four or more AS. Unless they are given an extension before the start of the new League Year, an UFA can sign with any team, owing nothing to their previous club. This year, teams may enter contract negotiations with players set to be UFAs, on March 8th. If terms are agreed upon, the UFA may be re-signed on March 11th. Otherwise, this begins the free agent period that goes until the later of July 22nd and the beginning of Training Camp.

If the prior club does not agree to an extension during the three-day negotiation period, they still have the option to offer the player a contract. Before June 1, the prior club may offer a 1-year contract of the greater of: 110% of the player's previous year salary, or 110% of the Minimum Salary for a player with their number of CS. If such a free agent were to not receive a contract tender from any other team before July 22nd, they can only sign with their prior club. If the player chooses not to sign this tender before the tenth week of the season, they cannot play for that season.

Alternatively, if a player receives no tenders at all by July 22nd, they remain an UFA.

Example: Charlie Whitehurst is set to be an UFA in three days. His agents have the next couple of days to negotiate a new contract for Charlie. If they can't agree to terms, he will become a free agent. Both the Chargers and Whitehurst have a few months to gauge interest from other teams. At any point before June 1st, the Chargers have the option to offer Whitehurst a 1-year contract valued at at least $1.43 Million. This number is 110% of the $1.3 Million he made last year, since he made more than the $840,000 for a Veteran with 7-9 years. He has until July 22nd to accept this offer (if offered), or the offer of another team. After July 22nd, he will either continue to be free to sign with any team, or if offered a tender, can only sign this offer or effectively not play at all this season.

Restricted Free Agents

RFAs are Veterans with 3, but no more, Accrued Seasons. For this year, RFAs become such on March 11, like UFAs. Beyond that, there are couple of other key dates. Tenders must be offered between March 8th and 11th. This year offers must be signed by May 2nd and Rights of First Refusal must be exercised by May 7th.

There is a complicated system of Tenders from which the value of a player is set. The balancing act is in determining how valuable the player is to your team, and how valuable he may be to another team. No team wants to overpay for a player, but they also don't want to set the tender too low and risk losing the player to another team for far less than they are worth. The tenders are as follows:

Right of First Refusal Only

In order for a team to maintain RoFR only, they must make a Qualifying Offer of a set amount. This amount was set at $1.2 Million in 2011, and grew by 5% in each of the past two years. With the Salary Cap set to increase by 8.1% this year, so too will this amount. For 2014, it should be ~$1.43 Million.

Right of First Refusal and Draft Selection at Player's Original Draft Position

Similar to the above, but the salary amount must be the greater of 110% of the player's prior year salary or the amount above.

Right of First Refusal, One Second Round Draft Selection

Qualifying offer will be the greater of 110% and ~$2.19 Million.

Right of First Refusal, One First Round Draft Selection

Qualifying offer will be the greater of 110% and ~$3.11 Million.

Now that the Qualifying Offers have been laid out, what does it all mean?  If the prior club gives the player any of these tenders, they will be required to pay the player the amount specified for the next season, unless they sign with another club. If they sign with a new club, that club will be required to allow the prior club to meet their offer, or risk giving up some of their draft picks. Simple enough, but this is not always true.

The prior club can withdraw their offer rendering the RFA into an UFA, at any time. If the tender offered was greater than 110% of the previous year salary, and the player did not sign their tender, on June 15th, the prior team can withdraw their previous offer and immediately offer a new tender for only 110% of salary.  This is what is known as the "June 15 Tender." If a player was subject to a Right of First Refusal Only Tender and did not sign, then they can be offered the better of 110% and the Right of First Refusal Only Tender on June 1st. This is knowan as the "June 1 Tender." This can be further reduced to a "June 15 Tender" once the 15th is reached.

Chargers Example: Vincent Jackson was a Restricted Free Agent in 2010. He was originally tendered a 1-year, $3.2 Million deal. He did not sign this tender, nor did he receive a better offer from another team. On June 15th of that year, somewhat punitively, his offer was reduced to $583,000, or 110% of he previous salary. He would go on to hold out until after week 10. He would be Franchise tagged upon becoming an UFA the next season.

In the case that a player if offered a tender from a new team, there is a set process in place. Should the player be interested in the offer, he/his agent must submit a First Refusal Offer Sheet to the prior club. Upon receiving this sheet detailing the terms of the potential contract, the prior club has 5 days to exercise their Right of First Refusal. If they choose not to/fail to do so, the player will be bound to the new club's contract, and the new club will be liable for Draft Choice Compensation to the prior club, if applicable.

Example: This year, Bront Bird and Stephen Schilling are set to be RFAs. Neither player has developed into a starter, and as such, will not be tendered a Qualifying Offer. As such, they will be UFAs, free to sign with whomever.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

If any of the Free Agent rules are simple, this one has to be simplest. An ERFA is a Veteran with less than three AS. Such a player may be tendered an offer before March 11th of at least the Veteran minimum for the next year and their AS. If so offered, the player must sign this tender. If such a tender is not offered, they become a UFA. The Chargers have no ERFAs this year.

Thus ends the discussion of Free Agents. I tried to include as much information as seemed interested and relevant, but I surely left out a fair amount. Feel free to offer up question in the comments for further clarification.

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