NFL teams must negotiate separate contracts with each individual player for each football season. This process is complicated by the fact that not every player is considered equal. Some players are under contract for a specific amount of time, while others are classified as restricted free agents or unrestricted free agents.
Free agents are able to field negotiations with any team. In order to understand how this process can affect your favorite team and players, it helps to have some understanding of the terms used when talking about free agency in the NFL.
1. Accrued Seasons
The number of accrued seasons a player has spent in the NFL will have a direct impact on his status as a free agent. The Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is a document that governs the negotiations between teams and players, does not define an accrued season in the same way that you would. An accrued season refers to a season where a player spent a specified number of games on a team's roster at full-play status. A player cannot become a free agent until they have at least three accrued seasons on their resume.
You will often hear broadcasters and sports enthusiasts talk about tags when discussing free agents. Tags are essentially special designations that teams assign to free agents in order to retain the right of first refusal during negotiations.
The two types of tags you will hear about most often are franchise tags and transition tags. A franchise tag allows the player's existing team to receive draft picks in exchange for allowing the player to sign with another team. A player with a transition tag can negotiate with other teams. If that player signs an offer, their existing team can match the offer or refuse to renew their contract. No draft picks are received when a team refuses to sign a player with a transition tag.
3. Money Guarantees
The media will often talk about guaranteed money when discussing free agent contracts.
The only money guarantees that exist are related to skill, cap, and injury. If a team lets a player go due to a lack of skill, to bring their franchise under salary cap limits, or because of player injury, the free agent is guaranteed to receive all money allocated to these three areas within their contract.
Money guarantees provide protection for players who may otherwise be used as pawns within a franchise.
Keep these tips in mind when looking at NFL free agents.