The NFL begins its annual ritual of rumors, news, and player movement this week as the start of the 2018 league year begins. That means that free agency is upon us, which makes this the perfect time for a reminder about the NFL’s rules in that arena.
Drawing most of the headlines in the next few weeks will be the Unrestricted Free Agents. These are players who are free to sign with any NFL team of their choosing. Only players with four or more years of accrued experience and whose contracts expired after the 2017 season are eligible for this status.
See below for a complete primer on free agency to get you ready for this week’s events and news.
Important Dates & Deadlines
The biggest date on the NFL’s calendar each year is the start of the new league year. This year, that is Wednesday, March 14th at 4:00 PM Eastern Time. After that time, free agents can begin signing with other teams, and it is reasonable to expect a slew of big signings within minutes and hours of that point. That time is also the deadline for teams to tender their Restricted and Exclusive-Rights Free Agents (more on that shortly).
Monday, March 12th at 12 Noon Eastern is also a notable deadline, as it is the beginning of the “legal tampering” period.
What does this oxymoron mean? Essentially it means that agents of players who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents can begin negotiating terms of contracts for those players with any team around the NFL. Up until this point, the only team with which those players could negotiate was the team they played for at the end of the 2017 season.
The collective bargaining agreement still prohibits players from signing contracts or even verbally agreeing to a deal with another team during this period, however, but handshake agreements appear to happen every year. This is most clearly observed when players sign immediately following the opening of the new league year without even taking visits to potential new teams.
Restricted Free Agency
Players who have four or more accrued seasons of NFL experience after 2017 are Unrestricted Free Agents, and are therefore free to negotiate with any team in accordance with the provisions above. However, players with three seasons under their belts are Restricted Free Agents, and NFL teams may submit a “tender” to their RFA players to retain some rights to their services. Note that tenders must be submitted before the start of the 2018 league year at 4:00 PM Eastern on March 14th.
Issuing a tender means that the player may still negotiate contracts with other NFL teams, but that their original team has the opportunity to match any contract offer (also called an “offer sheet”) the player receives. Depending on the amount of the tender, the original team may also receive compensation if they choose not to match.
There are three tenders, each of which is for a one-year contract at a specified amount. The tenders are as follows: the “low” or “right of first refusal” tender, which only gives the original team the opportunity to match an offer sheet without compensation; the second-round tender; and the first-round tender. In the latter two cases, the original team would receive the specified draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft if the player receives an offer sheet and the tendering team chooses not to match it.
Once the NFL set its salary cap last week, the tender amounts were finalized as follows:
2018 RFA Tenders— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) March 6, 2018
2nd Round: $2.914M
Exclusive-Rights Free Agency
ERFA is reserved for players with two or fewer years of NFL experience whose contracts have expired. Like with RFAs, the player’s previous team may submit a tender to ERFAs. This tender, however, is for a one-year contract the league-minimum salary for the player’s specified experience level. Submitting that tender also means that the player cannot negotiate with other NFL teams.
The player may still negotiate a longer-term contract with his original team, or he may sign the tender offered to him. ERFAs often simply sign the tender and become RFAs in following seasons.
As with RFA tenders, the deadline for teams to submit ERFA tenders is 4:00 PM on March 14th.
Packers Free Agents
Below is a list of the Packers’ free agents for 2018, sorted by free agency status.
Packers 2018 Free Agents