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NFL Free Agency 2014: Restricted Free Agent Tenders

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After taking a look at the Miami Dolphins players who are set to become free agents next week, I received some questions about the restricted free agent tenders. So, here are the answers.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

After four years of NFL experience, a player with an expiring contract becomes an unrestricted free agent. A player with just three years of NFL experience, however, does not get to completely test the free agent market, instead becoming a restricted free agent. They are free to negotiate and sign an offer sheet from a new team, with their original team maintaining the right of first refusal.

Of course, that assumes the original team made a qualifying offer to the restricted free agent in the first place. Teams have up until the start of free agency on March 11 to make the qualifying offer, which also determines if the original team receives any compensation if the restricted free agent signs with a new club.

There are four different qualifying offers teams can make, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, though most teams only use the top three tenders:

  1. Right of First Refusal Only. One-year Player Contract with Paragraph 5 salary of at least $1.323 million. No compensation is applied to the original team if another team signs this player to an offer sheet.

  2. Right of First Refusal and Draft Selection at Player's Original Draft Round: One-year Player Contract with a Paragraph 5 Salary of at least $1.431 million for right of first refusal and original draft round compensation. (If the restricted free agent entered the league in the fifth round of the NFL draft, the original team receives a fifth round pick in the next NFL draft from the new team.)

  3. Right of First Refusal, One Second Round Draft Selection: One-year Player Contract with a Paragraph 5 Salary of at least $2.187 million for right of first refusal and second draft round compensation. No matter how the restricted free agent entered the NFL, the original team receives a second-round pick from the new team if said new team signs the player to an offer sheet that the original team isn't willing to match.

  4. Right of First Refusal, One First Round Draft Selection: One-year Player Contract with a Paragraph 5 Salary of at least $3.113 million for right of first refusal and first draft round compensation. No matter how the restricted free agent entered the NFL, the original team receives a first-round pick from the new team if said new team signs the player to an offer sheet that the original team isn't willing to match.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents have less than three accrued seasons in the NFL and have no negotiation rights. Once a team makes an offer to the player, he is locked into that offer or he does not play in the upcoming season.

If a restricted free agent of an exclusive rights free agent are not tendered prior to the start of free agency, they become unrestricted free agents and are free to negotiate with any team.