Navigating Through the Free Agency Period

January 11, 2016
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free agency period2016 free agency period just around the corner…

While the 2016 free agency period doesn’t begin for another few months, the NFL regular season is over and as teams that missed the playoffs consider their futures, players should also begin thinking about how they would like to continue with their careers.

As the playoffs proceed and certain players on all 32 teams face some sort of free agency period ahead, they should speak with their agents and consider whether they would like to stay where they are or move on to a new team next season.

The end of every NFL season brings with it a new group of free agents, many of whom begin to question the next step in their careers. What their next move might be is a consideration colored both by the amount of time they’ve spent in the league and which teams they hope will sign them. Depending how many seasons players have accrued they may be either restricted or unrestricted free agents. Whether they are categorized as the former or the latter will have an influence on how they proceed with their careers.

“Many free agents face questions about their futures.”

The remaining restricted free agents and their options

Restricted free agents are waning in the league, though they are not bound for extinction. These players’ situations are less fluid than that of unrestricted free agents, and depend more on whether their old teams would prefer to resign them or let them test the market. However, these free agents are also becoming less common with each passing year. This is due to season accrual requirements that determine whether a free agent is restricted or unrestricted.

A restricted free agent is a player who has accrued three full seasons, but less than four. An accrued season is one in which the individual is on the team’s 53-man roster for at least six games. The reason restricted free agents are becoming harder to find is due to the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement rookie contracts which were extended to four seasons. That means that players drafted since then skip over the restricted free agency threshold and move straight to unrestricted free agency by the time their contracts are up. Undrafted players or those who are cut before their first four seasons are up may eventually become restricted free agents, but the same is no longer true for individuals who make it all the way through their rookie contracts with one team.

Those who do become restricted free agents can sign with any team starting March 15. From that date, any team may tender an offer to the player, but his old team may counter with a qualifying offer. The previous club also has the right of first refusal on any contract terms. If the player does sign with a new team, his old organization may be entitled to draft compensation.

New York Giants’ cornerback Prince Amukamara, slated to be an unrestricted free agent, is one player who will have to ponder where he wants to play next year.

The freedom that comes with unrestricted free agency

The rest of the individuals who enter free agency this year will be unrestricted. These individuals may start speaking with other teams starting March 12, though they may not officially accept an offer until free agency begins on March 15. Unrestricted free agents may negotiate with and receive offers from any team, and their previous organizations do not have the right to refuse these deals. Old clubs are not entitled to draft compensation, either, if the individual chooses to sign with a new team. If an unrestricted free agent goes unsigned through the start of training camp, his old team may acquire negotiating rights by offering a 1-year contract for 110 percent of his previous salary.

Players who are facing free agency starting in March have to eventually make a decision about how they would like to proceed with their careers. What they choose largely depends on their free agency status.

For more information on how free agency status may impact a player’s career come March, speak with an experienced sports law attorney or NFL agent for advice on potential options.