NFL Free Agency: Restricted Free Agents

A Restricted Free Agent (RFA) has only three Accrued Seasons at the expiration of his Player Contract. RFAs are free to sign with any team, but RFAs prior teams have options that can restrict player mobility.

There are various tenders (“Qualifying Offers” in the CBA) that a team can offer a player. Each come with different rights. In order for a club to retain the rights of such tenders, they must place tender on player on or before the first day of the RFA Signing Period (NFL CBA – Art. 9, Sec. 2, (b), 36).

The RFA Signing Period will be decided upon by September 1 of the prior League Year. The period will be at least 35 days long and will come to a conclusion at least five days before the NFL Draft (Sec. 2, (e), 37).

Each of the tenders gives a team the Right of First Refusal (RFR). This allows the team to match any offer sheet one of their RFAs sign with a different team.

If a team decides to place an Original-Round tender on a RFA, it is one-year, $1.797 million in 2017. If such a player signs an offer sheet with another club, his original team would receive compensation from his new team equal to the round the RFA was drafted in. So, for a player drafted in the fifth-round, who receives this tender, his former team obtains a fifth-round pick if it decides not to match an offer sheet the RFA has signed.

The first-round tender is worth $3.91 million for the 2017 season. Any team who signs an offer sheet with such a player would owe his former team a first-round selection as compensation. The New England Patriots placed a first-round tender on Malcolm Butler this week.

The second-round tender is a Player Contract worth $2.746 million over one year in 2013. It is similar to the Original-Round tender, but the team the player departs would receive a second-round pick from his new squad.

The tender amounts are subject to increase or decrease with the salary cap up to a minimum 5% and maximum 10% change. The draft choices tied to the tenders are due the same League Year in which the player was signed, and a team without the required picks can’t sign an RFA to an offer sheet (Sec. 3, (c), 39).

The new team must use Appendix B in the CBA as an offer sheet. The offer sheet has to be signed by the RFA and the new team and must specifically detail the deal’s Principal Terms. The offers Principal Terms consist of Signing Bonus, P5 Salary, Reporting Bonus, Roster Bonus, and/or any other salary that is variable or dependent on performance (only LTBE incentives).All of the Principal Terms in the offer sheet must be matched by the player’s prior team for them to retain the RFA’s rights.

The RFAs prior team has five days to exercise its Rights of First Refusal on all tenders. If they choose to match the offer, they will be considered to have entered a binding agreement consisting of the Principal Terms.

Unlike in the time of Steve Hutchinson and Nate Burleson, the new CBA does not allow the new team to sign an offer sheet that would have a Principal Term that creates different rights for the two teams. Basically, the “poison-pill” contract has been disallowed (Sec. 3, (a-j), 39-41).

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