The post-combine, pre-free agency lull in the NFL is about to end, one way or another.
We say it that way because one big thing is happening first — the players voting on a proposed new collective bargaining agreement that would begin immediately and last through the 2030 season.
The NFL Players Association announced Monday that voting has been extended to Saturday — it had been scheduled to conclude Thursday.
Teams are allowed to begin negotiating with impending unrestricted free agents next Monday, and whatever the decision on the CBA will heavily influence the talks — a decision will at least allow some movement to really begin, with much of the NFL’s business seemingly on hold until the CBA is sorted out.
Should the new CBA be approved, free agents’ contract negotiations will be impacted by the knowledge of 10 years of labor peace to come as well as the knowledge of how the salary structure will change down the road.
Conversely, should the CBA not pass, the league’s future financial structure will be unknown, and a few provisions of the old CBA will still be in place that could tangibly impact things this year. Notably, teams could use both a franchise and transition tag, which could keep a lot more players off the market (teams will be able to only use one tag if the CBA is approved).
For now, here are eight questions and answers about what you need to know as free agency approaches.
Q: When can players start signing?
A: As noted above, the agents of players can begin talking to teams next Monday at 1 p.m. PDT. This kicks off the 48-hour so-called “legal tampering” period. Players can officially sign contracts on Wednesday, March 18 at 1 p.m. PDT.
Q: This is just unrestricted free agents who are suddenly free to sign, correct?
A: Yes. An unrestricted free agent is a player whose contract ran through the 2019 season. He becomes “free” when the new league year begins Wednesday at 1 p.m. Many other players who were cut or unsigned when the season ended have been free to sign at anytime — those players are called “street free agents.”
Q: How many unrestricted free agents (or UFAs) does Seattle have?
A: 18. Here is the list: Defensive linemen Jadeveon Clowney, Quinton Jefferson, Jarran Reed, Al Woods, Ziggy Ansah and Dekoda Watson; linebacker Mychal Kendricks; offensive linemen Germain Ifedi, George Fant and Mike Iupati; receiver Jaron Brown; running backs Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin and C.J. Prosise; tight end Luke Willson; cornerbacks Akeem King and Neiko Thorpe; and quarterback Geno Smith. (Receiver Josh Gordon can also be a UFA but also remains indefinitely suspended).
Q: Seattle also has some restricted and exclusive rights free agents, correct?
A: Yes. Restricted free agents are players who have three accrued seasons in the NFL and whose contracts have run out. Teams can place what is called a “tender” on them — a pre-determined salary that is guaranteed only if they make the 53-man roster. Tendered players can still negotiate with other teams, but his current team has the right to match any offer the player would get with a chance to receive a draft pick back as compensation if the player signs elsewhere based on what tender the player received (first round, second round or original round if the player was drafted elsewhere).
Teams must submit offers to their RFAs by next Wednesday. If they don’t, then those players become unrestricted free agents.
Seattle has five RFAs: tight end Jacob Hollister, center Joey Hunt, receiver David Moore, defensive back Kalan Reed and defensive lineman Branden Jackson.
Q: How about exclusive rights free agents?
A: These are players who have fewer than three accrued seasons. Teams can retain their rights by tendering them an offer of one year at the minimum salary. Players can either take the offer or sit out a year, meaning there is really no decision. Players not tendered by Wednesday at 1 p.m. become free agents.
Seattle has eight ERFAs: offensive linemen Jordan Simmons and Jordan Roos, tight end Tyrone Swoopes, defensive tackle Bryan Mone, defensive backs Jeremy Boykins and Ryan Neal, receiver Malik Turner and linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee.
Q: What is Seattle’s cap situation entering free agency?
A: As of Monday afternoon, the Seahawks were listed by OvertheCap.com as having just under $44 million in effective cap space, 17th-most in the NFL. But cap space can always be created by releasing players under contract (tight end Ed Dickson being considered the most likely, which would clear up another $3 million) or restructuring contracts (though those might be on hold until a resolution of the CBA).
Q: Are the Seahawks expected to use a franchise or transition tag?
A: No. Seahawks general manager John Schneider told reporters at the NFL combine last month that Seattle did not anticipate using either tag. Seattle has used a tag just once since 2010 — last year, on defensive lineman Frank Clark. But as quickly became clear, Seattle did so mostly to keep Clark from becoming an unrestricted free agent so the team could then trade him, as eventually happened when he was dealt to the Chiefs.
Seattle agreed not to tag Clowney as a condition of his trade from Houston to Seattle before last season and the Seahawks apparently don’t feel anyone else is worth tagging, which means a guaranteed salary at a rate that is the average of the top at his position or 120 times his old salary, whichever is greater.
If Seattle had another tag candidate, it was likely Jarran Reed. But a tag would mean a salary of $15.5 million (franchise) or $12.321 million (transition) in 2020, all of which would go straight on the salary cap, and the Seahawks are obviously hoping if they retain Reed they do so under a more cap-friendly deal. The deadline to use the tag is Thursday.
Q: Teams can get future draft picks for players lost as free agents, correct?
A: Yes, though it’s a fairly complicated formula and teams can lose potential comp picks if they then sign free agents from other teams. Also, the formula for future years could change based on the new CBA.
It has been expected that comp picks for the 2020 draft for free agent signings from last year would be announced soon, which would further help teams plan for the free agent frenzy to come. Seattle is expected to get three, including a third-rounder for losing Earl Thomas.
But like many things, the announcement at the moment appears on hold pending the CBA vote (or, that’s everyone’s best guess, anyway, in a process that always seems shrouded in seemingly unnecessary secrecy).
Teams, though, will undoubtedly want to know what the rules are going to be for comp picks going forward before diving into free agency.