Free Agency 101: The 2009 Free Agency Period is here and NFL teams are ready to shop

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Remember “Alan Faneca”, all you fans out there with dreams of signing a free agent and moving instantly into Super Bowl contention.  Faneca was one of the 2008 free agency period’s biggest fishes out there.  The former 7-time Pro Bowl guard signed a deal of a lifetime (5 years, $40 Million with $21 Million guaranteed) that made him the highest paid offensive lineman at the time to leave the frugal Pittsburg Steelers to sign with New York Jets owner Woody Johnson’s “deep pocketed” team.  The moves of bringing in Faneca and fellow free agency pickups outside linebacker Calvin Pace and right tackle Damien Woody plus trades for quarterback Brett Favre and defensive tackle Kris Jenkins were supposed to instantly hand the J-E-T-S the AFC East crown.  Well, now we know that the Jets, despite a massive off-season spending spree, did not reach the postseason for the second straight year finishing with a disappointing 9-7 record including going 1-4 in their final five games — lost to Denver, San Francisco, Seattle and Miami (lost division title at home) and barely beat Buffalo. I am sure Johnson was “giddy” seeing the return on his investment when the Jets were on the sidelines come playoff time watching the upstart AFC East champion Miami Dolphins.

I am sure during the 2008 season NFL team general managers and owners paid particular attention to the Jets’ fortunes to see the affect of extravagant free agency spending on a team.  The Jets and the equally luxurious Dallas Cowboys expected to win after shopping at Neiman Marcus in the offseason for players.  But not so fast…. as both teams didn’t even make the playoffs and it was the Pittsburgh Steelers fueled by home grown talent cultivated through the draft (James Harrison, Santonio Holmes, Ben Roethlisberger, Casey Hampton and others) who were hoisting the Super Bowl XLIII Lombardi trophy.  The Steelers proved that building a solid nucleus through the draft and playing as a “team” are the greatest keys to winning in the NFL rather than trying to buy a championship.  The Steelers confirmed the same successful formula that the Colts, Patriots, and Giants have subscribed to for years by looking to the draft first to build their teams — Did you notice all of these teams have recently won a Super Bowl.  Over the years I have always told disgruntled spend-happy fans, “Good teams fill weaknesses on their roster with solid veteran players and draft picks and bad ones try to make a splash by over spending for ‘Big Name’ free agents and usually fall apart due to non-cohesiveness”.

Timeframe: Begins at 12:01 a.m. EST on Friday, February 27th and runs to April 17th at 4 PM EST for restricted free agents

Salary Cap Information: The 2009 salary cap has been set for $124 million per team, which is $7.3 million higher than last year’s figure of $116.7 Million.  Remember TV and the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) have dictated the large pot of money that is out there.  Most of the teams are in good shape going into the free agency signing period due to good cap management.   Solid teams usually make good cap decisions (Cutting of high priced veterans, extending young ascending players, and signing value veterans at the league minimum: $750,000).  Teams with plenty of cap room (signing dollars) include: Arizona Cardinals ($40 Million under the Salary Cap as of February 27th), Detroit Lions ($39 Million under) Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($38 Million under), Kansas City Chiefs ($38 Million under), Tennessee Titans ($31 Million under), Philadelphia Eagles ($31 Million under), and Buffalo Bills ($26 Million under). While others like the Washington Redskins ($7 Million over the cap), New Orleans Saints ($6 Million over), Indianapolis Colts ($4 Million over), New York Jets ($1 Million over), Oakland Raiders ($8 Million under), New England Patriots ($5 Million under) and Dallas Cowboys ($3 Million under) will need to do some slashing and contract restructuring before trying to sign their upcoming draft picks and desired free agents.

Number of Free Agents: The National Football League announced that over 400 players are free agents of some kind and they can now negotiate with all 32 teams. That number includes the 14 free agents that were designated as “franchise” players, which is an NFL-high surpassing the former high of 11 from 2005 and 2008.

Possible CBA Issues Lurking – At the 2008 Annual NFL Spring Meeting, NFL owners while crying broke over salaries that now encompass 60% of yearly revenues, exercised a clause (had until November 8, 2008 to do so) by a unanimous vote (32-0) to shorten the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA). The vote meant that the CBA that was originally signed in 1993 (Extended several times including the last time in 2006) would expire in 2011 instead of 2013. There have been murmurs of a possible lockout in 2012 if the owners and players cannot come together on a new CBA.  A few key items that will need to be discussed in the new CBA are the scheduled “uncapped” year in 2010, new free agency rules (years of services, team player rights, the franchise tag) and a potential rookie salary cap.  But who could blame the owners for talking about a rookie salary cap with deals like 2008 NFL Draft first overall selection Dolphins offensive tackle Jake Long’s rookie contract (5 years, $57.5 Million dollars including a signing bonus of $30 Million dollars) and that was before he even stepped on the playing field.  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said when making the announcement at the ’08 meeting of opting out of the current CBA, “We don’t need further time to analyze whether this is working or not working. It’s not working”.   The Commish added, “It was the ownership’s view that it’s not a failure of the negotiations, it’s a failure of the deal”. It will be real interesting to see how the whole potential CBA mess is handled since the NFLPA still has not settled on a successor for former NFLPA head the late Gene Upshaw.

Key Terms:

Restricted Free Agent – A player that has accrued three seasons of playing time and their contract has expired.  The player’s team must submit a “qualifying” offer (a salary level predetermined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players). The player can negotiate with any team through April 17th. If the restricted free agent accepts an offer sheet from a new team, his old team can match the offer and retain him because it has the “right of first refusal.” If the old team does not match the offer, it can possibly receive draft-choice compensation depending on the amount of its qualifying offer. If an offer sheet is not executed, the player’s rights revert to his old team after April 17th.  These are guys that usually have trade value and their team will only let them go at their price (ex. The Eagles trading restricted free agent quarterback AJ Feeley to the Miami Dolphins for a 2nd Round pick in 2005)

 Some of the bigger name restricted free agents:

DL Victor Adeyanju, RFA St. Louis Rams 

WR Miles Austin, RFA Dallas Cowboys 

WR Hank Baskett, RFA Philadelphia Eagles

SS Atari Bigby, RFA Green Bay Packers 

TE Dominique Byrd, RFA St. Louis Rams

C/G Nick Cole, RFA Philadelphia Eagles

OT Willie Colon, RFA Pittsburgh Steelers 

TE Tony Curtis, RFA Dallas Cowboys

OG Jahri Evans, RFA New Orleans Saints 

CB Cortland Finnegan, RFA Tennessee Titans 

CB Charles Gordon, RFA Minnesota Vikings 

OG Richie Incognito, RFA St. Louis Rams 

TE Jeff King, RFA Carolina Panthers

P Sam Koch, RFA Baltimore Ravens 

SS Dawan Landry, RFA Baltimore Ravens 

FS Anthony Madison, RFA Pittsburgh Steelers 

DL Stanley McClover, RFA Carolina Panthers

WR Lance Moore, RFA New Orleans Saints 

LB Quentin Moses, RFA Miami Dolphins 

TE Ben Patrick, RFA Arizona Cardinals 

TE Leonard Pope, RFA Arizona Cardinals 

FS Anthony Smith, RFA Pittsburgh Steelers 

DL Gabe Watson, RFA Arizona Cardinals 

Unrestricted Free Agent – A player with four or more accrued seasons whose contract has expired. He is free to sign with any team, with no compensation owed to their former team.  These are the guys that should be thanking Reggie White, a key marquee player who fought hard for free agency and eventually was able to sign a huge deal with the Green Bay Packers back in 1993. Over 300 players have this designation. 

Some Bigger Name Unrestricted Free Agents:

QB Kerry Collins, UFA Tennessee Titans 

QB Jeff Garcia, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

QB Rex Grossman, UFA Chicago Bears 

QB Byron Leftwich, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers 

QB Chris Simms, UFA Tennessee Titans 

QB Kurt Warner, UFA Arizona Cardinals 

RB J.J. Arrington, UFA Arizona Cardinals 

RB Cedric Benson, UFA Cincinnati Bengals 

RB Correll Buckhalter, UFA Philadelphia Eagles

RB Kevin Jones, UFA Chicago Bears 

RB Derrick Ward, UFA New York Giants 

FB Lorenzo Neal, UFA Baltimore Ravens 

WR Devery Henderson, UFA New Orleans Saints 

WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, UFA Cincinnati Bengals 

WR Michael Jenkins, UFA Atlanta Falcons

WR Brandon Jones, UFA Tennessee Titans 

WR Brandon Lloyd, UFA Chicago Bears 

WR Amani Toomer, UFA New York Giants

TE Chris Baker, UFA New York Jets

TE Owen Daniels, UFA Houston Texans

TE L.J. Smith, UFA Philadelphia Eagles

TE Jerramy Stevens, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers

OT Stacy Andrews, UFA Cincinnati Bengals

C Matt Birk, UFA Minnesota Vikings 

C Jason Brown, UFA Baltimore Ravens

OT Marc Colombo, UFA Dallas Cowboys 

OT Jon Runyan, UFA Philadelphia Eagles 

C Jeff Saturday, UFA Indianapolis Colts 

OT Marvel Smith, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers 

OT Mark Tauscher, UFA Green Bay Packers

OT Tra Thomas, UFA Philadelphia Eagles 

DL Chris Canty, UFA Dallas Cowboys

DL Tommie Harris, UFA Chicago Bears 

DL Albert Haynesworth, UFA Tennessee Titans 

DL Tank Johnson, UFA Dallas Cowboys 

DL Igor Olshansky, UFA San Diego Chargers

LB Michael Boley, UFA Atlanta Falcons

LB James Farrior, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers 

LB Ray Lewis, UFA Baltimore Ravens 

LB Willie McGinest, UFA Cleveland Browns 

LB Mike Peterson, UFA Jacksonville Jaguars

LB Bart Scott, UFA Baltimore Ravens 

LB Zach Thomas, UFA Dallas Cowboys 

LB Jonathan Vilma, UFA New Orleans Saints 

CB Chris Gamble, UFA Carolina Panthers 

CB Jabari Greer, UFA Buffalo Bills

CB Corey Ivy, UFA Baltimore Ravens 

CB Ty Law, UFA New York Jets

CB Bryant McFadden, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers  

FS Brian Dawkins, UFA Philadelphia Eagles 

SS Rodney Harrison, UFA New England Patriots 

SS Sean Jones, UFA Cleveland Browns 

SS Darren Sharper, UFA Minnesota Vikings 

PK John Carney, UFA New York Giants 

PK Robbie Gould, UFA Chicago Bears 

PK John Kasay, UFA Carolina Panthers 

PK Matt Stover, UFA Baltimore Ravens

Transition Player – A team can designate one transition player (or one franchise player) in any given year. The player’s team must offer a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of last season at the player’s position or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater (ex. Transition Salary for a RB in 2009 is $5.925 Million). A transition player designation gives the team a first-refusal right to match within seven days any offer sheet given to the player by another team after his contract expires. If the team matches, it retains the player. If it does not match, it receives no compensation.

  • No players were designated as a “Transition Player” this year.

Non-Exclusive Franchise Player – A team can designate one franchise player in any given year as a “Non-Exclusive Franchise” player. The salary level offered by the designating team determines whether the player is an Exclusive or Non-Exclusive franchise player. A “Non-Exclusive” franchise player is free to sign with other teams, but his team has the right to match the offer after 7 days. These types of free agents are offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of April.  A Non-Exclusive Franchised Player can solicit deals from other teams, but his current team has first-refusal rights to match within seven days any offer sheet. If the player does sign and his team matches, the old team retains the player. If old team does not match, the old team receives compensation in the form of draft picks (usually first rounders) from the new team depending on the level they were tendered at originally.  The deadline for making these designations for 2009 was Feb. 19th.

LB Karlos Dansby, UFA Arizona Cardinals

LB Leroy Hill, UFA Seattle Seahawks 

P Michael Koenen, UFA Atlanta Falcons

TE Bo Scaife, UFA Tennessee Titans

OT Max Starks, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers

Exclusive Franchise Player – A team can designate one franchise player in any given year as an “Exclusive Franchise” player. The salary level offered by the designating team determines whether the player is an Exclusive or Non-Exclusive franchise player. An “exclusive” franchise player is not free to sign with another team.  These type of players are offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of April.  Some teams use the tag as a way to initiate talks for a long-term contract, but usually players and their agents that are designated as exclusive franchise players are extremely unhappy and can cause distractions.  Their angst is due to the loss of an “upfront” signing bonus (guaranteed $$$).  Though they will be paid at the highest level of their position, players typically want the big payday that comes with being a free agent.  In the past we have seen franchised players miss all non-mandatory off season training activities and report late or holdout of training camp (ex. Seattle Seahawks Offensive Tackle Walter Jones in 2004 & 2005). The deadline for making these designations for 2009 was Feb. 19th. Here are the anticipated salaries for franchised players Quarterbacks: $14.65 Million, Cornerbacks: $9.96 Million, Defensive Ends: $8.99 Million, Linebackers: $8.30 Million, Wide Receivers: $9.88 Million, Offensive Lineman: $8.45 Million, Defensive Tackles: $6.06 Million, Running Backs: $6.62 Million, Tight Ends: $4.46 Million, Safeties: $6.34 Million, and Kickers/Punters: $2.48 Million

2009 “Exclusive” Franchise Designated Players

S Oshiomogho “O.J” Atogwe, UFA St Louis Rams

WR Antonio Bryant, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers

QB Matt Cassel, UFA New England Patriots

K Shayne Graham, UFA, Cinncinati Bengals

RB Brandon Jacobs, UFA New York Giants

DL Julius Peppers, UFA Carolina Panthers 

CB Dunta Robinson, UFA Houston Texans 

RB Darren Sproles, UFA San Diego Chargers

OLB/DE Terrell Suggs, UFA Baltimore Ravens

Cap Casualty – A veteran player that has been released from his contract usually as “cap relief” for his former team.  These players are usually let go before Free Agency or before their contract bonuses incentives kick-in usually around March or June prior to OTA’s and training camp.  Veteran “street” free agents are eligible to sign with any team as soon as they are released, thus bypassing free agency period dates.

Some Bigger Name 2009 Cap Casualty Players

St. Louis Rams WR Drew Bennett

Detroit Lions CB Leigh Bodden

Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Derrick Brooks

Detroit Lions TE Dan Campbell

Oakland Raiders WR Ronald Curry

NY Giants RB Reuben Droughns

Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Warrick Dunn

Kansas City Chiefs LB Donnie Edwards

Oakland Raiders LB Kalimba Edwards

Jacksonville Jaguars CB Drayton Florence

Pittsburgh Steelers LB Larry Foote (expected to be released or traded by NFL Draft)

Detroit Lions WR Mike Furrey

Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Joey Galloway

Houston Texans RB Ahmad Green

Houston Texans LB Morlon Greenwood

Oakland Raiders OL Kwame Harris

Indianapolis Colts WR Marvin Harrison

St. Louis Rams WR Torry Holt (expected to be released or traded by NFL Draft)

Kansas City Chiefs QB Damon Huard

Arizona Cardinals RB Edge James (expected to be released or traded by NFL Draft)

Dallas Cowboys CB Adam “Pacman” Jones

Detroit Lions QB Jon Kitna (expected to be released by NFL Draft)

NY Giants DB Sammy Knight

NY Giants DB Sam Madison

Baltimore Ravens DB Chris McAllister

New Orleans Saints RB Deuce McAllister

Atlanta Falcons S Lawyer Milloy

Detroit Lions guard Edwin Mulitalo

Dallas Cowboys WR Terrell Owens (expected to be released or traded by NFL Draft)

St. Louis Rams OT Orlando Pace (expected to be released or traded by NFL Draft)

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Jerry Porter

Denver Broncos DT DeWayne Robertson

Detroit Lions DB Dwight Smith

San Francisco 49ers DB Shawntae Spencer (expected to be released by NFL Draft)

Kansas City Chiefs CB Patrick Surtain

Jacksonville Jaguars RB Fred Taylor

Oakland Raiders WR Javon Walker (expected to be released by NFL Draft)

Oakland Raiders S Gibril Wilson

Players signing new deals with their old team, thus avoiding free agency

Oakland Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomugha

Tennessee Titans K Rob Bironas

Miami Dolphins OT Vernon Carey

Miami Dolphins LB Channing Crowder

Carolina Panthers OT Jordan Gross

Detroit Lions K Jason Hanson

Indianapolis Colts CB Kelvin Hayden

Oakland Raiders P Shane Lechler

Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Ryan Simms



Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)


2 Responses

  1. Thanks for this. To be quite honest, I was always unsure of the differences between all the different types of players during this period.

    And transition players? Huh? That was a new one.


  2. Thank you . you can see NFL fans shop

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