We are all getting ready for the madness that is the start of NFL Free Agency. Rumors, speculation, visits, and signings will take over the lexicon throughout the next few weeks as NFL teams chase the veteran players they hope will fill a need and take them to the next level. Tuesday's official start to Free Agency is not the only thing that happens that day, however.
Tuesday at 4pm ET is actually the start of the 2014 league year. That's why free agency begins then, player contracts through the 2013 season officially expire on March 11 at 4pm ET. That moment also marks the end of the ability for a team to offer restricted free agent and exclusive rights free agent tenders to any applicable players. If a RFA or ERFA is not tendered before that 4pm ET deadline, they become unrestricted free agents and are free to sign with any other franchise.
When the new league year begins, it also marks the beginning of the 2014 salary cap, as well as the transition from 53-man roster limits to the 90-man preseason limit, and the "Top-51" salary cap calculation.
The start of the new league year also means trades are now allowed for the first time since the trade deadline following the rgular season's Week 8, as well as the "Reserve/Future" contracts signed by players not on a roster at the end of the season, are now official.
Perhaps one of the most important, but little recognized, feature of the new league year is the ability to release players. Up until that mark, teams are typically releasing players only to get under the salary cap when the new league year starts. After that 4pm ET mark on Tuesday, teams will begin releasing players to make salary cap room as they sign other free agents. Which brings into play the June 1 designation that we all saw last year when the Miami Dolphins released Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams can designate two players as "June 1 cuts," then release them immediately. The team carries the full salary cap number of those players through to June 1, however the player themselves is free to sign with another team.
This move allows the team the ability to stay under the 90-man roster limit, while also getting the June 1 benefit of spreading "dead" guaranteed money over two years rather than eating the entire dead money this year. Look for players with high salary cap numbers to be designated June 1 cuts and released as early as Tuesday afternoon.
While the obvious, and exciting, part of Tuesday is free agency, the new league year actually does bring with it a lot of other important pieces to each team.