I have a confession… I used to throw around the terms Restricted and Unrestricted Free Agent (regarding NFL football) back in the day without really knowing what they meant. In case you can relate, I thought I’d share with you the differences between ‘em both.
It’s actually pretty simple.
An Unrestricted Free Agent can sign with any team once he becomes a free agent and his current contract expires. Regardless of what his current team offers him, an Unrestricted Free Agent can’t be forced to stay with his current team, unless he just flat-out wants to stay.
It’s a different story for Restricted Free Agents.
These players are able to sign with other teams too, but their current teams can force them to stick around if they match the offer(s) extended to the player from other teams.
Under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), a player would need to accrue 4 seasons in the NFL before they’d qualify to become an Unrestricted Free Agent. As we all know, a new CBA is currently being negotiated, so the number of accrued seasons to qualify as an Unrestricted Free Agent could very well change soon.
Now, there was a little twist to this in the 2010 season (hopefully I don’t lose you here). The old CBA granted the owners the right to bow-out of the old CBA in 2008, which they did. This made the 2010 season the Final League Year under the terms of the previous CBA.
In the final league year, according to the old CBA, the rules for qualifying as an Unrestricted Free Agent changed, which made it so that players had to wait until their 6th season in the NFL to qualify as an Unrestricted Free Agent, instead of 4. Needless to say, there were many players that would’ve normally had the freedom to sign with other teams, but had to stay with their current teams.
Obviously, because of this, there were a lot of frustrated players and agents going into the 2010 NFL season.
As always, I must state that there are other little nuances to the differences between Unrestricted and Restricted Free Agents, but for the sake of simplicity (the Collective Bargaining Agreement is kinda complex), I’ll leave it at that.
What needs do you expect your favorite NFL team to fill via free agency in the near future?