49ers RB Jeff Wilson was set to become an RFA but the team franchise tagged him.

What is a restricted free agent in NFL?

Free agency is one of the most exciting parts of the NFL offseason, as players seeking new situations leave their current teams and sign deals elsewhere. Free agency is always a hot topic around the NFL, but there are some terms that may confuse fans. One such term is restricted free agent, or RFA. We'll explain what a restricted free agent is, and what this means for players and teams.


Restricted free agent in NFL explained

Restricted free agents are players who have three or more accrued seasons of six or more games before their contract with their team expires. To become a restricted free agent, the team that holds the contract must offer the player a salary tender, which is referred to as a qualifying offer.

After a restricted free agent has received their qualifying offer, they are provided with time to negotiate with other teams around the League. The team that holds the player's contract has the right to match any offer put forth by another franchise if the player signs an offer sheet with that new team. If the team chooses to match the contract, they have the right to retain the player under the grounds of what is called the right of first refusal.

If the team declines to match the offer that the competing franchise offered the player, the player is allowed to sign with the new team. The old team may receive compensation in the form of draft picks if this scenario unfolds.


Also read: NFL Free Agency: Ranking the top free agents for 2021

If the player does not sign with a new team before a predetermined deadline established by the league for all restricted free agents, the rights to the player revert back to the franchise that holds the player's contract.

Franchises also have the ability to designate restricted free agents as franchise players or transition players. Teams can designate one player as a franchise player or a transition player as long as the player is set to become a restricted or unrestricted free agent. Exclusive franchise players are not permitted to sign with other teams and will be given a salary based on the average of the salaries for the top 5 highest earning players at that player's position.


Restricted free agents are the opposite of unrestricted free agents, who may negotiate with and sign with any team they so desire, as long as salary cap rules are met as per the NFL Player Association's Collective Bargaining Agreement. Unrestricted free agents do not have to allow their previous team the chance to match offers, and are under no obligations to finish their negotiations before a certain date.

Also read: What is dead money in the NFL?

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