Free agency is a big deal for the National Football League come springtime, with every team looking to make themselves better. Sometimes there are big name players out there with their contracts expiring with teams either looking to keep them for a few more years or let them go and snatch up players that they feel will compliment their squads better.
Free agency can be a little confusing, however. Some fans are not exactly sure what the difference is between a restricted and unrestricted free agent and there are other details regarding such transactions that can get a little complicated. Here is a definitive guide for understanding NFL free agency.
When does the signing period take place?
About a month after the Super Bowl, teams are already completely focused on free agency. Usually, the signing period will take place in March. For the 2013 season, the negotiation period began on March 9, and it lasted three days.
During this time, teams are allowed to contact players they are interested in and start negotiations for signing them. They will have to wait three days to sign the contract, however. This is in the hands of the agents, and players themselves cannot visit other teams or talk to any personnel within this period. However, only unrestricted free agents can be courted during this period, not restricted free agents.
What’s the difference between a restricted and unrestricted free agent?
If you are a restricted free agent, this means that the team you are currently playing for has the advantage in the negotiations. A restricted free agent has three Accrued Seasons under his belt. An Accrued Season is a season in which the player was on the team, either as an active or inactive player, on injured reserve or on the physically unable to perform list. It doesn’t matter if the player played in six games, as long as they were under contract as a part of the team for six games of the year. A restricted free agent is still under contract with the team he is playing for currently.
After negotiating with other teams, if the restricted free agent gets an offer from another team, the team they are currently on has the ability to match the offer or make a counteroffer in order to keep that player. If the offer is not matched, then there will be a possible trade and the player will have the opportunity to sign with another team. Usually, there are future draft picks coming to the player’s former team as compensation for the player that is about to be traded.
An unrestricted free agent has four or more Accrued Seasons and a contract that has expired. An unrestricted free agent is able to sign with any club he wants before training camp begins. Furthermore, his old team will not get any draft picks if the player leaves and signs with another team. If the unrestricted free agent does not sign with another team by spring training camp, then he can potentially be under contract for another year with his current team and will be paid 110 percent of the salary he received during the prior season. If the team does not sign him to this tender, he has either until June to sign with another team, or until November to work out a new contract with the current team. If June comes and goes and the player does not sign with another team and an agreement is not reached by November with his current team, then the player must sit out the entire season.
Leslie writes for allpro and various other sports websites.