You’ll hear a lot about “free agents” in the next few weeks as the NFL free agency market opens March 9th. That’s the date teams can begin signing free agents. But what exactly is a ‘free agent’ and how does it affect the league and the players?
Here are 5 Things to Know About NFL Free Agency:
#1 An NFL FREE AGENT is a player who can sign with any team because he’s not under contract. Think of it as being single, able to date anybody you like. The good news: you can flirt with any team you like and try to get the best deal. You may end up getting a big pay raise because you will get paid whatever the market will bear, maybe even a big signing bonus (like RB DeMarco Murray with the Eagles last year).
The bad news about being a free agent: you’re not tied to anyone. You are not under contract. You’re unemployed. You may get a big pay raise, but you may also get a pay cut. You may not get signed at all. You’re playing the waiting game, hoping for the phone to ring. As for NFL teams, they cannot always spend as much money as they want. They have to keep their spending under a salary cap. So it’s not like a credit card with an unlimited spending amount; you have to fit all the players on your roster within the 2016 cap of $155.27 million.
#2 FREE AGENCY IS NOT ‘ONE SIZE FITS ALL’:
*An UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT is a veteran player with four or more years in the NFL whose contract has expired. He can sign with any team.
*A RESTRICTED FREE AGENT has three-or-less years in the NFL, but their contracts have expired. A team can keep its restricted free agent by giving them a Qualifying Offer which means the player can negotiate with others until a deadline in the spring, but the original team still has a right to match that offer and keep the player. If the team doesn’t match the offer, the team gets a draft pick as compensation (the pick depends on the qualifying offer, so if the offer is the pay worth a 3rd round pick, the team would get a 3rd round pick as compensation; the higher the draft round, the more money for the offer).
*An EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENT is a player with two years experience whose contract has expired. He cannot shop his services to other teams. The team owns his rights. The only way he can sign with another team is if their original team releases him.
#3 THESE 2015 COWBOYS ARE UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
MLB Rolando McClain, DL Greg Hardy, CB Morris Claiborne, DE Jeremy Mincey, QB Matt Cassel, FB Tyler Clutts, RB Lance Dunbar, RB Robert Turbin, G Ron Leary, TE James Hanna, DT Nick Hayden, LB Kyle Wilber, G/C Makenzy Bernardau, DL Jack Crawford, S Danny McCray, T Charles Brown, and CB Josh Thomas.
That’s 17 players from last year’s Cowboys team who are unrestricted, so basically 1/3 of the 53-man roster in 2015. These guys can sign with any team beginning March 9th.
#4 BIG FREE AGENT SIGNINGS CAN ALTER A TEAM’S HISTORY:
Arguably the most impactful free agent signing was defensive end Reggie White’s decision to sign in Green Bay in 1993, the first offseason featuring free agency in the NFL. Considered the best defensive force in the game and the #1 prize in free agency, White took his talents to Lambeau Field which – at that time – was a perennial loser. With White on defense – and a young QB named Brett Favre coming into his own – the Packers charted a course for success. Green Bay, as a small market team in Wisconsin, was not regarded as a desirable destination at that time. The perception changed when Reggie White signed for 4 years, $17 million.
#5 THE MOST IMPACTFUL FREE AGENT SIGNING FOR THE COWBOYS??
Deion Sanders signing in Week 2 of the 1995 season is arguably the most impactful free agent acquisition in Cowboys history. The previous year, Sanders signed with the 49ers, helping them to a Super Bowl championship, and tipping the scales of the Cowboys-49ers rivalry towards San Francisco. After his 1 year with the 49ers, Deion hit the open market again, signing with Dallas for 7 years, $35 million. He helped propel the Cowboys to their third Super Bowl championship of the 1990’s, and tipped the scales back towards the Cowboys. By the way, QB Tony Romo was a free agent signing, too. He was undrafted out of college in 2003, so he could sign with any team as a rookie free agent. He chose the Cowboys which altered the course of team history.