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Explaining how the NFL works, Part 15: Types of Free Agents

Let’s examine the process of some of the inner workings in the NFL and how teams manage the situations.

NFL: OCT 30 49ers at Rams Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Whether it’s when the NFL is in the full swing of its regular season or if it’s during the downtime of the early summer, there still is constant news and happenings with the league that has made itself relevant 365 days a year. When various things are discussed, sometimes there are terminologies and procedures where fans might have a general understanding of things. Even the most die-hard fans may have certain areas they don’t understand exactly what various things mean and wish to have a better understanding.

Over the next few weeks, I will take some time to do my best in thoroughly explaining some of the various inner workings of things in the NFL. These are not on-field items but more from an administrative standpoint. Whether it be understanding the waiver wire, the Reserve/Injured List, or the breakdown of the practice squad, we’ll take a look at some of the various terms that are thrown around and utilized in descriptions of things in the NFL but may not be fully understood.

Next up is looking at the different types of free agents.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents (ERFA)

An NFL player whose contract expired and has less than three accrued seasons is an exclusive rights free agent. The team the player was on the previous season has the opportunity to offer the player a one-year contract for the league minimum for their credited seasons. The player cannot sign with another team unless they are not offered the ERFA tender.

This type of free agency typically comes into effect when a player is released from their rookie contract and is re-signed either by their original team, a new team, or by going on a practice squad.

Restricted Free Agents (RFA)

A player becomes a restricted free agent when their contract expires after exactly three accrued seasons. With undrafted free agents (UDFAs) signing three-year contracts when they come into the league, if they make the roster their first season and continue under that contract they typically end up as restricted free agents.

When a player is an RFA, The team with which the contract expires has several options of tenders they can offer. Players must be tendered by the beginning of the new league year and their salaries are based on the type of tender offered which increases in amount every season. The type of tender offered to the player also determines the compensation to the team should the player sign somewhere else. If an RFA does sign with another team, the original team has the option of matching the offer and keeping the player. If they do not, the team will surrender the designated draft pick in that year‘s NFL draft unless the deal was signed within two days or later of the start of the draft.

First-round tenders receive a one-year contract at 110% of the prior year's base salary or, in 2023, $6.005 million. A second-round tender would be for a salary of 110% of prior year’s base salary or $4.304 million in 2023. An original round tender is once again pay at 110% of the players previous years base salary or $2.743 million in 2023. With this tender, the compensation would be a pick in the round the player was originally drafted.

For a right-of-first-refusal tender, a player would receive $2.627 million in salary and the team would have the right to match any contract the player would sign elsewhere but would receive no draft compensation if they do not match the offer.

If a team uses a first-round tender on a player, it is because they were not drafted in the first round otherwise they would use an original-round tender. If a team uses a first-round tender, they cannot receive an additional first-round pick on an original-round tender for a player drafted in the first round. In that case, they would receive a second-round pick for the original-round tender. The same is true for a player designated a second-round tender and another former second-round pick was given an original-round tender. In other words, a team cannot receive an original round tender pick if they are already receiving a pick from the same round.

Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA)

A player whose contract expires who has four or more accrued seasons is an unrestricted free agent and is free to sign with any team once the new league year begins.

Street Free Agents (SFA)

Any player who was either released by their team or was not under contract the previous season is considered a street free agent. A SFA does not have to wait until the beginning of the league year in order to sign a contract and they do not factor into the compensatory formula.

In case you missed other parts of the series, they can be seen here: