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Free Agency Primer

Posted Feb 15, 2013

Q. When does the 2012 free agency signing period begin?

A. At 3:00 PM CT on Tuesday, March 12.

Q. What are the categories of free agency?

A. Players are either "restricted" or "unrestricted" free agents. Within the categories are also "franchise" and "transition" players.

Q. What is the time period for free agency signings this year?

A. For restricted free agents, from March 12 to April 19. For unrestricted free agents who have received the June 1 tender from their prior Club, from March 12 to July 21 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later). For franchise players, from March 12 until the Tuesday following the 10th week of the regular season, November 12. If a franchise player does not sign by November 12, he must sit out the season.

Q. Who are the Titans’ free agents in 2013?

A. The Titans have 15 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in 2013: linebacker Xavier Adibi, defensive end Dave Ball, tight end Jared Cook, linebacker Zac Diles, defensive end/defensive tackle Leger Douzable, guard Leroy Harris, fullback Quinn Johnson, guard Deuce Lutui, defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, linebacker Gerald McRath, cornerback Ryan Mouton, running back/returner Darius Reynaud, running back Javon Ringer, linebacker Will Witherspoon and defensive end Jarius Wynn. The Titans have two players scheduled to become restricted free agents this year: center/guard Kyle DeVan and center/guard Fernando Velasco. They have only one exclusive rights player: center/guard Kevin Matthews.

Q. Who are some of the notable unrestricted free agent acquisitions by the Titans in recent years?

A. Included in Tennessee’s unrestricted free agent signings in recent years were quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (2011), safety Jordan Babineaux (2011), defensive end Jason Babin (2010), linebacker Will Witherspoon (2010), wide receiver Nate Washington (2009), guard Jake Scott (2008), wide receiver Justin Gage (2007), cornerback Nick Harper (2007), linebacker David Thornton (2006), center Kevin Mawae (2006), safety Chris Hope (2006) and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (2005).

Q. What is the difference between a restricted free agent and an unrestricted free agent?

A. In the 2013 League Year, players with three accrued seasons become restricted free agents when their contracts expire. Unrestricted free agents have completed four or more accrued seasons. An unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any club with no draft choice compensation owed to his old club.

Q. What constitutes an "accrued season"?

A. Six or more regular-season games on a club’s active/inactive, reserved/injured or reserve/physically unable to perform lists.

Q. What could restrict the ability of a restricted free agent to sign with a new club?

A. He has received a "qualifying offer" (a salary tender predetermined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players) from his old club. He can negotiate with any club through April 19. If the restricted free agent signs an offer sheet with a new club, his old club can match the offer and retain him because it has a "right of first refusal." If the old club does not match the offer, it may receive draft choice compensation depending on the amount of its qualifying offer. If an offer sheet is not executed on or before April 19, the player’s negotiating rights revert exclusively to his old club. In addition, a player who would otherwise be a Restricted Free Agent may be designated by his old club as its Franchise Player or Transition Player. No Restricted Free Agents were designated as such this year.

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 draft choice compensation owed to his old club, through July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later). At that point, his negotiating rights revert exclusively to his old club if by June 1 the old club tendered the player a one-year contract for 110 percent of his prior year’s salary. His old club then has until the Tuesday following the 10th week of the regular season (November 12) to sign him. If he does not sign by that date, 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 franchise player?

A. The salary offer by a player’s club determines what type of franchise player he is: exclusive or non-exclusive.

An "exclusive" franchise player – not free to sign with another club – is offered the greater of (i) the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position for the current year as of the end of the Restricted Free Agent Signing Period on April 19; or (ii) the amount of the Required Tender for a non exclusive franchise player, as explained below.

The methodology for calculating the Required Tender for a non-exclusive franchise player is explained in Article 10, Section 2(a)(i) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. It is known as the "Cap Percentage Average" for calculating the Required Tender for such a player: "The Nonexclusive Franchise Tender shall be a one year NFL Player Contract for (A) the average of the five largest Prior Year Salaries for players at the position . . . at which the Franchise Player participated in the most plays [formerly, "games"] during the prior League Year, which average shall be calculated by: (1) summing the amounts of the Franchise Tags for players at that position for the five preceding League Years; (2) dividing the resulting amount by the sum of the Salary Caps for the five preceding League Years . . . ; and (3) multiplying the resulting percentage by the Salary Cap for the upcoming League Year . . . (the "Cap Percentage Average") . . . ; or (B) 120% of his Prior Year Salary, whichever is greater . . ."

If a club extends a Required Tender to a non-exclusive franchise player pursuant to this section, the player shall be permitted to negotiate a player contract with any club, except that draft choice compensation of two first-round draft selections shall be made in the event he signs with a new club.

Q. How many franchise and transition players can a team designate each season?

A. A team can designate one "franchise" player or one "transition" player among its potential free agents.

Q. Can a club withdraw its franchise or transition designation on a player?

A. Yes. A club can withdraw its franchise or transition designation, and the player then automatically becomes an unrestricted free agent, either immediately or when his contract expires.

Q. After withdrawing the designation, can a club then designate another player?

A. Not in the same season.

Q. Have the Titans used the franchise or transition designations recently?

A. The last Titans player to receive the franchise designation was safety Michael Griffin in 2012. After receiving the franchise tag, Griffin and the Titans reached a long-term contract agreement. Prior to Griffin, the Titans used the franchise designation in 2008 on defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and in 2009 on tight end Bo Scaife. Before Haynesworth, the Titans had not applied the franchise tag to a player since Blaine Bishop in 1997. The transition designation has not been used by the Titans since they applied it to punter Craig Hentrich in 2003. The tag was removed after one week, and he was signed to a long-term contract.

Q. What is the salary cap for 2013?

A. In 2013, the salary cap is $123,000,000 per club. In 2012, it was $120,600,000 per club.

Q. When do teams have to be in compliance with the salary cap?

A. At the start of the 2013 League Year, which begins at 3 p.m. CT on March 12.

Q. If a team is under the salary cap at the end of a given season, can the team carry over room to the next season?

A. Yes. A team may "carry over" room from one League Year to the following League Year by submitting notice to the NFL prior to 3:00 p.m. CT on the day before the team’s final regular-season game indicating the amount of its remaining room that the club wishes to carry over.

Q. What is the maximum amount of room that a club can carry over?

A. One hundred percent of its remaining room.

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