Ok, so I’m not going to assume that all of you don’t know what NFL Free Agency is, but I bet that I can count all of my knowledge sisters on 10 fingers.  So for the rest of you, you’ve picked up the bat phone and I see the signal.  Contrary to the difficult triangle of sorts that men try to make free agency out to be, the basic need-to-know information is really simple.  Let’s start at the beginning…

An NFL Free Agent is anyone who is not under a contract (seem simple so far).  Free agents are classified into two categories: restricted and unrestricted.  Furthermore, a team may “tag” a player franchise or transition, which places additional restrictions on that player’s ability to negotiate with other teams. However, the ability to “tag” is quite limited, and only affects a handful of players each year.  From my experience players don’t like this option because it sets so my limitations on the teams that they can talk and negotiate with.  It’s like being told that you can only date or marry a man who is a certain height, race, or financial status, and after he meets those requirement he still may not be accepted because his final offer still doesn’t meet all of the requirements.

Free agency is in place because of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.  The current CBA is set to expire after the 2010 season which could result in a lockout in 2011 if not extended with updated terms (we’ll discuss that in another blog entry).

Inside of free agency, there are five classes and in some of those classes are sub-classes.  We’re not going to concentrate on all of that, I want to give you basic knowledge to get you through the next week or so.  The type of Free Agent depends on previous experience and team offers. When I say previous experience, I mean “accrued seasons”, which is six or more regular-season games on a team’s active/inactive, reserved- injured or “physically unable to perform” lists.

I want to touch on three basic elements: restricted and unrestricted free agency, and franchise tags.

A player who has 3 years of experience is eligible for restricted free agency, whereby his current team has the chance to retain rights to this player by matching the highest offer any other NFL team might make to that player. The club can either block a signing or, in essence, force a trade by offering a salary over a certain amount of time or condition.

A player who has four or more years of experience is eligible for unrestricted free agency, whereby his current team has no guaranteed right to match outside offers to that player. This means that players in this category have unlimited rights to negotiate any terms with any team.

The franchise tag is given to a player by a team that guarantees that player a contract that will be the average of the five highest-paid players of that same position in the entire league, or 120% of the player’s previous year’s salary (whichever is greater) in return for retaining rights to that player for one year.  A team can only assign this tag to one player a year, but can designate the same player for consecutive years.  99.9% of players don’t care of this tag because it hinders them from going after large signing bonuses that are possible in unrestricted free agency, and also prevents a player from leaving the team, especially when the reasons for leaving are not necessarily financial. A team may, at their discretion, allow the franchise player to negotiate with other clubs, but if he signs with another team, the first team is entitled to two first round draft picks in compensation. I hope you got that!

Now that’s the skinny on NFL Free Agency, use this new found knowledge and make me proud. 

Your JGF,