What is NFL Free Agency?

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The thrill of the NFL free agency period is upon us, and invites curiosity about all things related to its game-changing wheeling and dealing. Expect the unexpected, as some of the greatest out-of-contract players in American football are up for grabs by the biggest franchises in the league.

The outcomes of the weeks and months of negotiations during the free agency period can enhance and, in some cases, diminish the chemistry of a team. Franchises looking for a sure shot are willing to put shocking offers on the table to secure the best players.

For one franchise to gain a football prodigy, another franchise must lose one. Thus, the free agency period brings with it all the suspense of the jaw-dropping bidding wars that will shape the upcoming football season. The current NFL salary cap for 2022 is $202.8 million.

The 2022 free agency period kicks off on March 16, 2022, at 4 p.m. ET.

What is NFL Free Agency?

According to the National Football League, free agency is the right of any professional football player who is not under contract to sign with any franchise of their choice.

The extent of a player’s right to receive qualifying offers from new franchises depends on the seasons of service they have accumulated. Specifically, the number of seasons of service determines the scope of their rights, privileges, and status within the current framework.

Players accrue a season when they register at their team’s training camp on a mandatory date, and remain on full-play status for a minimum of six regular games in a season.

There are three different kinds of NFL free agents. According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (via The New England Patriots), certain conditions apply.

The three kinds of NFL free agents are:

  • Exclusive-rights free agents (ERFAs) are out-of-contract players with two or less accrued seasons of service. An ERFA is obliged to accept a qualifying offer from their old franchise or forego playing football for the season. 
  • Restricted free agents (RFAs) are out-of-contract players with a minimum of three accrued seasons of service. They have the right to negotiate with any franchise they wish before a legal deadline. If they fail to reach a deal within the set timeframe, RFAs are obliged to sign a new contract with their old franchise. Should the RFA receive a qualifying offer from a new franchise, their old franchise has the right to match the offer or receive draft-choice compensation from the new franchise.
  • Unrestricted free agents (UFAs) are out-of-contract players with four or more accrued seasons of service. Once the UFAs contract expires, they may sign with any franchise they wish without the obligation of paying draft-choice compensation to their old franchise.

When does NFL free agency signing period begin?

NBC Chicago reports that the free agency period commences in tandem with the new league year. The start date for the signing period is the same for all free agents. The end date varies depending on what type of free agent they are.

In 2022, restricted free agents (RFAs) may receive qualified offers and conduct negotiations until April 22, unrestricted free agents (UFAs) until July 22, and exclusive rights free agents (ERFAs) until November 15.

What is the history of NFL free agency?

The current NFL free agency system was established on March 1, 1993, after the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) and the National Football League (NFL) agreed to amend the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Who are the NFL’s top free agents in 2022?

  1. Terron Armstead, Offensive Tackle, New Orleans Saints
  2. J.C. Jackson, Cornerback, New England Patriots
  3. Von Miller, Outside Linebacker, Los Angeles Rams
  4. Carlton Davis, Cornerback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 
  5. Chandler Jones, Linebacker, Arizona Cardinals
  6. Tyrann Mathieu, Safety, Kansas City Chiefs
  7. Marcus Williams, Safety, New Orleans Saints
  8. Allen Robinson, Wide Receiver, Chicago Bears
  9. Emmanuel Ogbah, Defensive End, Miami Dolphins
  10. Brandon Scherff, Guard, Washington Commanders