NFL free agency primer

March 8, 2014 

The free agency signing period begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday, when unrestricted free agents – players with four or more accrued seasons who are not under contract – can sign with any team. This follows a three-day negotiating period that began at noon Saturday, in which teams can talk to the agents of prospective unrestricted free agents.

A glossary of free agency terms:

Unrestricted free agent (UFA): A player with four or more accrued seasons whose contract has expired. The player can sign with any team, with no draft choice compensation owed to his former team through July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later).

Restricted free agent (RFA): A player with three accrued seasons whose contract has expired. The player may be subject to a qualifying offer from his previous team.

Qualifying offer: A one-year salary tendered, or offered, to a current player. The salaries are predetermined by the collective bargaining agreement. By 4 p.m. Tuesday, teams must submit qualifying offers to the restricted free agents for whom they wish to retain the right of first refusal or get compensation should they not match another team’s offer. RFAs may negotiate with other teams, but the original team has five days to match an offer sheet from another team, or can choose not to match and receive draft-pick compensation based on the level of its qualifying offer.

Accrued season: The NFL’s standard for tracking players’ service time, an accrued season consists of six or more regular-season games on a team’s active roster, injured reserve or physically unable to perform lists.

Salary cap: The maximum a team can spend on its roster during a league year. The cap increased from $123 million last year to $133 million for 2014. This is a hard limit. When the league’s 2014 business year begins March 11, teams have to count their top 51 salaries against the cap, but during the season they have to count the top 53 salaries, plus the practice squad and players on injured reserve.

Cap figure, or cap cost: The amount a player counts against a team’s salary cap. The figure includes a player’s base salary, incentive bonuses earned and a prorated portion of the player’s signing bonus.

Franchise tag: Tool that allows teams to restrict the movement of one of their UFAs, albeit at a high, one-year price tag. Teams can use the tag on one player during a two-week period (Feb. 17-March 3 this year). The tagged player is guaranteed 110 percent of his previous year’s salary or the average of the previous year’s top five salaries at his position, whichever is greater.

Joseph Person

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