Salary Cap 101

If you've ever wanted to know the difference between a 'franchise player' and a 'transition player' or an 'exclusive rights free agent' and a 'restricted free agent,' you can find the answers right here. Tom Marino, a veteran of 35 years in the player personnel field, is a recent addition to the staff. Class is in session, so pull up a chair.

Tom Marino is a veteran of 35 years in the player personnel field, most recently with the St. Louis Rams. He has worked in three professional leagues (NFL, USFL, and WFL), and among his many accomplishments, is credited with the discovery of Eric Swann, the first non-collegiate player since 1946 to be selected in the 1st round of the NFL college draft.

OK, students. Take your seats, and welcome to Salary Cap 101. Over the next few weeks I, and the staff at, will try and explain the NFL free agency system to you, the elite football fan.

As I'm sure you are already aware, this is a graduate level course, totally befitting subscribers. This semester, we will evaluate both the unrestricted free agents (UFA's) and the restricted free agents (RFA's), assess individual team needs, review last year's free agency signings, discuss each team's current cap situation, and for the first time ever, rate both the NFL pro scouting departments and salary cap administrators.

Before doing so, it is important for you to have a basic understanding of the new "Collective Bargaining Agreement" (CBA), a parting gift from Paul Tagliabue, along with some very important dates. OK, I know what you are thinking right now ... "BORING," and to tell you the truth, in many ways I agree with your initial reaction. But the process of choosing players via free agency is not as simple as just determining if their free agent offensive tackle is better than the current player at that position for your team.

So bear with me, and let's get through with process as painless as possible. In no time, we'll get to the fun stuff - giving our opinions and deciding who just might be that one free agent that can put your favorite team over the top.

For starters, next season's salary cap figure is a whopping $109,000,000, up seven million dollars over the 2006 cap figure. Not quite what a football scout or sports writer makes, but closing the gap very quickly.

There are three distinct types of free agents in professional football, and they are as follows:

1) Exclusive Rights

2) Restricted

3) Unrestricted

And within these categories, there are two very important subsets:

1) Transitional

2) Franchise

Today, let us address the Exclusive Rights Free Agents and both the Transitional and Franchise designation.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: Exclusive rights free agents (ERFA) are players with two or fewer years of experience who have no outside negotiating power. His rights belong to his club provided that club makes him a minimum qualifying offer, which varies based on tenure. An ERFA player may not speak with other teams and has no other NFL options open to him other than dealing with his previous club unless he is waived.

Negotiating rights of players with less than three accrued seasons: Any veteran with less than three accrued seasons whose contract has expired may negotiate or sign a player contract only with his prior club if on or before March 1 his prior club tenders the player a one-year player contract with a Paragraph 5* salary of at least the minimum active/inactive list salary applicable to that player.

If the prior club has not by that date made the required tender or later withdraws such tender, the player shall be completely free to negotiate and sign a player contract with any club, and any club shall be completely free to negotiate and sign a player contract with such player, without any penalty or restriction, including but not limited to, draft choice compensation between clubs or first refusal rights of any kind or any signing period.

* Any reference to the term "Paragraph 5" in the CBA has to do with the player's base compensation.

Any questions, class? Opinions? OK then, lets move on to the next topic.

TRANSITION PLAYERS: His club 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. A transition player designation gives the club a first-refusal right to match within seven days an offer sheet given to the player by another club after his contract expires. If the club matches, it retains the player. If it does not match, it receives no compensation.

All right, I don't want to overload you today. So why don't we get to one more topic, and we'll pick it up tomorrow at the same time.

FRANCHISE PLAYERS: A club can designate one (1) franchise player in any given year. The salary level offer by a player's old club determines what type of franchise player he is. An "exclusive" franchise player, not free to sign with another club, is offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player's position or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, whichever is greater.

If the player is offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries of last season at his position, he becomes a "non-exclusive" franchise player and can negotiate with other clubs. His old club can match a new club's offer or receive two first-round draft choices if it decides not to match.

If a club decides to withdraw its franchise or transition designations on a player, they can not use them on other players in the same year. A club can withdraw its franchise or transition designations, and the player then automatically becomes an unrestricted free agent either immediately or when his contract expires.

The club cannot name a new transition player (two allowed in 1993, one in 1994 and one in the final year of the CBA). It can name a new franchise player the next year. A club can, though, designate a transition player in lieu of a franchise player at any time.

Well class, you did a great job today, but attendance tomorrow is mandatory. In fact, I would go as far as to say if you don't attend tomorrow's lecture on Restricted Free Agents, I don't see any way you can possibly pass this course. And fans from Oakland and Detroit, please remember to bring a pencil and notebook tomorrow.

It's no wonder you're in the predicament that you're in today.

And one final note. Don't despair, we haven't forgotten about the college draft and the upcoming Indy combine, not by a long shot. personnel will be at the scene giving you the exclusive daily updates from the Indianapolis workouts and subsequent school workouts.

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