In the NFL, experience is worth more than its impact on the field. It can affect a player’s pocketbook, as well as his benefits when he leaves the game.
The NFL determines the experience of its veterans through two different processes: Credited Seasons and Accrued Seasons. Though the two involve similar parameters to meet the experience requirements, they are used for different purposes.
NFL Credited Seasons
Credited Seasons (CS) are the most frequently used form of experience. In order for a player to earn a credited season they must be on “full pay status for a total of three or more regular season games (NFL CBA – Art. 26, Sec. 2, 146).”
A player who is on the Exempt Commissioner Permission List, the Reserve PUP List, a team’s practice squad, or the Injured Reserve List will not accumulate games towards a CS.
A player on the Exempt Commissioner Permission List is suspended from the League, and a player who is in the midst of a suspension is not earning credit towards a CS in regards to this section.
Oakland Raiders linebacker Aldon Smith and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon have been serving lengthy suspensions, and due to this, they were not compiling Credited Seasons towards minimum salaries or their Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement plans. Each player has lost multiple Credited Seasons due to incidents that led to suspensions.
When Bengals linebacker James Harrison, who was undrafted out of Kent State in 2002, was on the Steelers’ Practice Squad from 2002-2003, he did not earn a CS towards increasing his minimum salary.
Also, if a player is put on season-ending IR and does not meet the threshold for full pay status, he does not earn a CS.
Credited seasons are used for all of the following:
- Minimum Salaries (Article 26)
- Workers’ Compensation (Article 41)
- Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle Retirement Plan (Article 53)
- Second Career Savings Plan (Article 54)
- Player Annuity Plan (Article 55)
- Tuition Assistance Plan (Article 56)
- Severance Pay (Article 60)
- NFL Player Disability Plan (Article 61)
- Long Term Care Insurance Plan (Article 62)
- Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Plan (Article 63)
- Former Player Life Improvement Plan (Article 64)
- Neuro-cognitive Disability Benefit (Article 65)
NFL Accrued Seasons
Accrued Seasons determine a player’s free agency designations (Art. 8, Sec. 1, 34).
The faster one accrues seasons the faster they can reach free agency, where, especially given the addition of the Rookie Compensation Pool, the bigger money is. If a player hits free agency at a young enough age, they could secure two or three large contracts through free agency.
In order to accrue a season, a player must be on (or should have been on) full pay status for six or more regular season games.
As with players earning Credited Seasons, a player can’t accrue seasons if he is on the Exempt Commissioner Permission List, the Reserve PUP List, or a team’s practice squad.
There is another parameter for gaining an Accrued Season in the new CBA. Any player under contract with a team that fails to report within 30 days prior to the first regular season game will not receive a season towards free agency.
Players are also required to provide their services if under contract. A player who, for a “material” extent of time, fails to fulfill and perform will also lose an Accrued Season. This is unless the player can prove to the Impartial Arbitrator extreme personal hardship.
The following is a list of free agents by Accrued Seasons:
- Exclusive Rights Free Agents – Two or less Accrued Seasons
- Restricted Free Agents – Three Accrued Seasons
- Unrestricted Free Agents – Four or more Accrued Seasons