NFL CBA Series: Restricted Free Agent

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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 has options that can restrict his movement.

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 (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.

The Right of First Refusal Only tender is a one-year player contract worth $1.323 million in 2013 (amounts are subject to increase or decrease with the salary cap up to a minimum 5% and maximum 10% change).

If a team decides to place an Original-Round tender on a RFA, it will also be a one-year, $1.323 million in 2013. 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 Second-Round tender is a Player Contract worth $2.023 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 First-Round tender is worth $2.879 for the 2013 season, the team would receive a first-round selection as compensation for the player. When Mike Wallace got the First-Round tender from Pittsburgh in 2012, it was worth $2.742 million (Sec.2, (b, 1-4), 36).

These draft choices are due the same League Year in which the player was signed, and a team without the required picks can’t sign the RFA to an offer sheet (Sec. 3, (c), 39).

This offseason RFA Victor Cruz is facing the bleak reality of performing too well, too early.

Cruz went undrafted out of UMass but exploded onto the scene during the past two seasons. The most, as CBS’ Joel Curry points out, Cruz could do is ask for a “”band-aid” contract through incentives. Cruz’s production will more than likely make any reasonable incentive “Likely To Be Earned” (LTBE), as they would have to be more than Cruz’s 82 receptions, 1,536 yards, nine touchdowns, 18.7 yards per reception, and a 69.49% playtime. Curry, a former sports agent, says that one way the team and Cruz could get around the LTBE—which counts against the cap this season—incentive would be to couple stats with playtime.

Though some teams thought about offering Cruz a contract, high First-Round tender was just too much for any of them. However, we did see the New England Patriots sign Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to a 1-year, $2.5 million offer sheet after Pittsburgh hit Sanders the original-round tender (third round for Sanders). After a little thought, the Steelers eventually matched the offer, and Sanders will remain with the Black and Gold for one more season.

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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