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Unrestricted vs restricted free agents: 2 key differences

Seattle Seahawks v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The NFL season is drawing to a close and free agents will be in market again

Free agents will be in focus again as the current NFL season draws to a close. 28 NFL teams have been eliminated and four will play the Conference Championship games on 29th January. The 2022 NFL season is about to end and NFL teams will once again start building their rosters as soon as the NFL free agency period opens up.

After the season ends, many NFL players will hit free agency. A player can hit free agency or become a free agent when his contract with his team expires. However, there are different types of free agents and that depends on how much time a player has spent on a team's roster.

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Basically, there are four types of free agents - unrestricted, restricted, undrafted, and exclusive rights. Now, let us know the difference between unrestricted and restricted free agents?

Players with expired contracts who have completed four or more accrued seasons of service are considered unrestricted free agents. Conversely, players with three seasons of service who have had their contracts expire are considered restricted free agents (RFAs).

All franchises are open to signing unrestricted free agents. However, this is not the case with the RFAs. They can accept qualifying offers from their former team during this period and can negotiate with any club until a deadline that falls around a week before the NFL Draft. At that point, their rights revert to their original team.

The previous team has the option to match any offer made by a new club in the event that a player accepts one from the latter. Depending on the amount of qualifying offers given to the player, the previous club may get draft-choice compensation if it decides not to match the offer.

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What is undrafted and exclusive rights free agents?

Undrafted free agents are NFL Draft-eligible athletes who were not picked by any NFL team. They have the ability to negotiate and sign contracts with any team. After the NFL Draft, clubs can sign players who were undrafted after the first seven rounds.

Coaches and front office personnel for majority of organizations begin calling players in the seventh round to express their interest in signing them as free agents if they are not picked.

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Players whose contracts have ended and who have served two or fewer seasons are known as exclusive-rights free agents (ERFAs).

A player who receives a qualifying offer from their team is unable to negotiate with other teams and is forced to sign a tender with their team or sit out for the remainder of the season. A tender is a one-year deal that typically pays a minimum salary fixed by the league.

Edited by Akshay Saraswat
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