Blog & Tackle: 2009 NFL free agent and updated CBA Q&A

February 23, 2009 | Chris Pika

The NFL released its’ annual free agency Q&A, along with an updated CBA-related Q&A for 2009 over the weekend. We posted the 2008 version of the CBA portion last week, before the league updated the important questions on the CBA heading into the 2009 league year.

Here is that updated information which might clear some confusion about the future of the NFL’s labor agreement (CBA) with its players and how the 2009 (last capped year) and 2010 (uncapped year) seasons will work if there is no CBA extension.

NFL Free Agency Questions & Answers

Q. When can players start being signed in the 2009 free agency signing period?
A. Beginning at 12:01 AM ET on Friday, Feb. 27.

Q. What are the categories of free agency?
A. Players are either “restricted” or “unrestricted” free agents. Within the categories are also “transition” and “franchise” players.

Q. What is the time period for free agency signings this year?
A. For restricted free agents, from Feb. 27 to April 17; for unrestricted free agents, from February 27 to July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later); and for franchise players, from Feb. 27 until the Tuesday after the 10th week of the season (Nov. 17).

Q. What is the difference between a restricted free agent and an unrestricted free agent?
A. Players become restricted free agents when they complete three accrued seasons and their contract expires. Unrestricted free agents have completed four or more accrued seasons with an expired contract.

Q. What constitutes an “accrued season?”
A. Six or more regular-season games on a club’s active/inactive, reserved-injured or “physically unable to perform” lists.

Q. Other than accrued seasons, what determines a restricted free agent?
A. He has received a “qualifying” offer (a salary level predetermined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players) from his old club. He can negotiate with any club through April 17. If the restricted free agent accepts an offer sheet from a new club, his old club can match the offer and retain him because it has the “right of first refusal.” If the old club does not match the offer, it can possibly receive draft-choice compensation depending on the amount of its qualifying offer. If an offer sheet is not executed, the player’s rights revert exclusively to his old club after April 17.

Q. What determines an unrestricted free agent?
A. A player with four or more accrued seasons whose contract has expired. He is free to sign with any club, with no compensation owed to his old club, through July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later). On July 23, his rights revert to his old club if it made a “tender” offer (110 percent of last year’s salary) to him by June 1. His old club then has until the Tuesday after the 10th week of the season (November 17) to sign him. If he does not sign by November 17, he must sit out the season. If no tender is offered by June 1, the player can be signed by any club at any time throughout the season.

Q. What determines a transition player?
A. A club can designate one transition player (or one franchise player) in any given year. The player’s club must offer a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of last season at the player’s position or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. A transition player designation gives the club a first-refusal right to match within seven days an offer sheet given to the player by another club after his contract expires. If the club matches, it retains the player. If it does not match, it receives no compensation.

Q. What determines a franchise player?
A. A club can designate one franchise player (or one transition player) in any given year. The salary level offer by a player’s club determines what type of franchise player he is. An “exclusive” franchise player – not free to sign with another club – is offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position for the current year as of April 17, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, or the average of the top five salaries at his position as of the end of last season – whichever of the three is greater. If the player is offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries of last season at his position, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, he becomes a “non-exclusive” franchise player and can negotiate with other clubs. His old club can match a new club’s offer, or receive two first-round draft choices if it decides not to match.

Q. Can a club decide to withdraw its franchise or transition designations on a player? If so, can it then use them on other players?
A. A club can withdraw its franchise or transition designations and the player then automatically becomes an unrestricted free agent either immediately or when his contract expires. The club cannot name a new franchise or transition player that year. It can name a new franchise or transition player the next year.

Q. What is the salary cap for 2009?
A. The salary cap is $123 million per club.

CBA-Related Questions & Answers

Q. When does the CBA expire should there be no extension to the agreement?
A. In March of 2011.

Q. Will there be a college draft (Editor’s note: NFL Draft) in 2011?
A. Yes.

Q. What is the “Final League Year” in the current agreement?
A. The “Final League Year” is the term used in the CBA to refer to the last year of the agreement. Without a further extension of the CBA, the “Final League Year” would be the 2010 League Year.

Q. What are the differences between the “Final League Year” and any other “League Year?”
A. The principal differences are that in the “Final League Year” there is no salary cap and there are substantial additional restrictions on player free agency and reductions in player benefits.

Q. Is there a Minimum Team Salary in the Final League Year?
A. There is no Minimum Team Salary in the Final League Year. The Minimum Team Salary in 2009 is projected to be $107,748,000, meaning each team is required to allocate $107 million on player costs (not including benefits). The team salary cap in 2009 is $123 million.

Q. Are there individual player minimum salaries in the Final League Year?
A. Yes, but they rise at a rate somewhat slower than player minimum salaries rise in capped years.

Q. Is there an Entering Player Pool (Editor’s note: also known as Rookie Cap or Pool) in the Final League Year?
A. There may be. The CBA provides that the league has the unilateral right to keep or eliminate the rookie pool in the Final League Year.

Q. Now that 2009 is the last capped year, are there rules that impact player contract negotiations and a club’s salary cap planning?
A. Yes. Here are the key differences:
* After the last game of the 2008 regular season, signing bonus proration was reduced from a maximum of six years to a maximum of five years.
* In 2009, there is no June 1 rule for Signing Bonus acceleration. If a player is removed from the roster or his contract is assigned via waivers or trade at any time in the 2009 League Year, any unamortized signing bonus will be immediately included in Team Salary.
* There is no year-end netting of incentives in 2009. Not-likely-to-be-earned incentives (NLTBE) are charged to team salary immediately when earned, and likely-to-be-earned (LTBE) incentives are deducted when they are no longer possible to earn.
* Guaranteed salary from 2010 and beyond is reallocated to 2009 unless the entire 2009 salary is guaranteed.
* 50% of guaranteed salary in any League Year beyond 2012 is reallocated to 2009.
* The 30% increase rule restricts salary increases from 2009 to 2010. For example: a player with a $500,000 salary in 2009 would be limited to annual salary increases of $150,000 ($500,000 x 30%) beginning in 2010.
* A team can include only three veteran team incentives in a player contract covering 2009 and beyond. These incentives must also be coupled with a playtime requirement. Previously, clubs were limited to eight team incentives and no playtime requirement.

Q. Are current player benefits affected in the Final League Year?
A. We expect player benefits to decline in the Final League Year. The union agreed that in the Final League Year, clubs would be relieved of their obligation to fund numerous benefit programs. Examples include second career savings (401K), player annuity, severance pay, performance-based pay, and tuition assistance.

Q. What determines an unrestricted free agent in the Final League Year (2010)?
A. In capped seasons, a player whose contract has expired becomes an unrestricted free agent if he has four or more accrued seasons. In the Final League Year (2010), a player whose contract has expired becomes an unrestricted free agent only if he has six or more accrued seasons. An unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any club with no compensation owed to his old club.

Q. What determines whether a player is a restricted free agent in the “Final League Year?”
A. In capped seasons, a player whose contract expires becomes a restricted free agent if he has three accrued seasons. In the Final League Year (2010), a player whose contract expires becomes a restricted free agent if he has three, four or five accrued seasons. The rights of restricted free agents remain unchanged in the Final League Year.

Q. In addition to the right to designate a franchise (or transition) player each capped year, can clubs designate additional players in the Final League Year?
A. Yes, one additional player can be tagged. In capped years, a club may designate a franchise player or a transition player. In the final league year (2010), a club may designate one additional transition player. A transition player must be offered a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of the prior season at the player’s position or 120 percent of the player’s prior year’s salary, whichever is greater. A transition player designation gives the club a first-refusal right to match within seven days an offer sheet given to the player by another club after his contract expires. If the club matches, it retains the player. If it does not match, it receives no compensation.

Q. What is the “Final Eight Plan”?
A. During the Final League Year, the eight clubs that make the divisional playoffs in the previous season have additional restrictions that limit their ability to sign unrestricted free agents from other clubs. In general, the four clubs participating in the championship games are limited in the number of free agents that they may sign; the limit is determined by the number of their own free agents signing with other clubs. For the four clubs that lose in the Divisional Playoffs, in addition to having the ability to sign free agents based on the number of their own free agents signing with other clubs, they may also sign players based on specific financial parameters.

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