The term "free agency" refers to the state where a professional sports player can freely seek out employment and contracts with other professional teams. Free agency usually occurs where a player’s contract has expired or the player can opt out of his contract. When a player can participate in free agency, he is called a "free agent."The rules of free agency are different for each sports league and determined by that league’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
Like other sports, there are two types of free agents in the NFL: the unrestricted free agent, and restricted free agent.
- Unrestricted Free Agent – An unrestricted free agent can make ANY deal with any team. When an NFL player with 4 or more seasons experience reaches the end of his player contract, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
- Restricted Free Agent – An NFL restricted free agent can also sign with any team with restrictions. Restricted free agents are players who have completed three accrued seasons of service and whose contracts have expired. They receive offers from their old teams and are free to negotiate with other teams. If the player accepts an offer from a new team, the old team can elect to or not to match the offer. If the old team does not match the offer, then it could receive draft-choice compensation depending on the level
The NFL gives teams two tools in securing their own free agents. They are Franchise tag and Transition Tag:
- Franchise Player – When a team tags a player as the "franchise player," that player is limited in his negotiations as a free agent. Depending upon how much a team pays the franchise player, he will be either an "exclusive" franchise player or a "non-exclusive" franchise player. An exclusive franchise player can only negotiate with his old team. A non-exclusive franchise player can negotiate like a restricted free agent. However, in the case the old team does not match the new offer and the non-exclusive franchise player signs with a new team, compensation must be 2 first round draft picks.
- Transition Player – When a team tags a player as a "transition player," the team has the right to match any offer for 7 days. If the old team does not match, it loses the player without any compensation. In order for a player to be a transition player, the team 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.
Experienced business lawyers or agents are skilled in the art of negotiation. Since professional athletes have only limited time to take advantage of their earning potential, hiring a sports lawyer to handle salary negotiations could help maximize your earnings.