NFL CBA Series: Unrestricted Free Agents
An Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) is a player who has more than four Accrued Seasons and whose contract has expired. UFA’s are free to sign contracts with any team, and any team can sign such player without penalty or restriction (Art. 9, Sec. 1 (a), 35).
When news breaks early in the League Year about players signing big-money free agent deals, that player was an UFA. Reputable UFAs can’t wait to hit free agency, especially those who have just played out there rookie contracts, because, under the new CBA, this is their first opportunity to earn premium wages in the NFL.
For example, Miami Dolphins new wide receiver Mike Wallace wanted a deal during his third season with the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, as a Restricted Free Agent, Wallace had very little leverage or ability to change the circumstances around him. This offseason, after his fourth Accrued Season, he was able to turn his game-changing
speed into a lucrative contract with the Dolphins. The team inked the 26-year-old receiver out of Ole Miss into a five-year, $60 million contract. Wallace will also save a huge chunk of change by gaining residency in Florida, which does not have income tax.
Teams can begin to start signing UFAs at the start of the League Year. If by July 22 or the first day of scheduled NFL training camp (whichever is later) the player has yet to sign a contract with a new team, his former team has a means to retain the player’s rights.
If by June 1 of the League Year the player’s prior team offers a one-year contract with a salary at the greater of 110% of either his Prior Year Salary or his P5 Salary, the UFA can only negotiate and sign with his former team after July 22 deadline.
The player and team have a rather long window for negotiating. The team and player can agree to a contract from July 22 until the 4PM Eastern Time on the Tuesday following the 10th week of the regular season.
If the player has not signed by this time, he can no longer play in the NFL for the remainder of the League Year. If he sits out the season, he can again sign with any team.
A player can be an UFA for any period of time and any number of times (Sec. 1, (b) (i-iii), 35).