NFL free agency explained: Salary cap, tampering, franchise tags and more

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The NFL’s free agency frenzy kicks off Monday with a 52-hour legal tampering period ahead of the official start of the new league year on Wednesday.

Several star players, including Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and Giants running back Saquon Barkley, will be free to sign a contract with a new team.

Here’s an explanation of the rules and terms to know:

What does legal tampering mean?

At 12 p.m. EDT on Monday, teams can start negotiating with players who will become unrestricted free agents when their contracts expire at the start of the new league year on 4 p.m. EDT on Wednesday. 

Players can’t sign with new teams until the league year officially begins. The two-day negotiating period applies only to players who will be unrestricted free agents.

Who are unrestricted free agents?

Any player with four or more accrued seasons — six or more regular-season games on a club’s active/inactive, reserve/injured or reserve/physically unable to perform lists — whose contract has expired becomes an unrestricted free agent and may negotiate and sign with any team.

Who are restricted free agents?

Restricted free agents are players with three accrued seasons who have received a qualifying offer when their current deals expire on Wednesday.

Free agency landing spots for Kirk Cousins, Chris Jones & Christian Wilkins

Free agency landing spots for Kirk Cousins, Chris Jones & Christian Wilkins

What is a franchise tag?

Each team can designate one potential free agent as a franchise player. Eight players received the tag.

An exclusive franchise player is not free to sign with another club and is offered the greater of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position for the current year as of the end of the restricted free agent signing period on April 19; or the amount of the required tender for a non-exclusive franchise player.

A non-exclusive franchise player can sign with another team, but that club will owe his previous team two first-round draft picks. All the players tagged this year are non-exclusive.

The time frame to sign franchise players is March 13 until Nov. 12.

[NFL free agency tracker: Signings, updates and more]

What is a transition tag?

The transition tag is a one-year offer for the average of the top 10 salaries at the position. It guarantees the original club the right of first refusal to match any offer the player might receive from another team.

The tagging team is awarded no compensation if it chooses not to match a deal. The time frame to sign transition players is from March 13 until July 22.

Only one player — Patriots safety Kyle Dugger — received the transition tag this year.

Teams can decide to withdraw franchise and transition tags and the player automatically becomes an unrestricted free agent.

What is the salary cap for 2024?

The salary cap is $255,400,000 per team, up from $224.8 million last year. Teams must be under the salary cap by the 4 p.m. EDT on Wednesday.

What is salary cap rollover?

A team may carry over salary cap space from one league year to the following league year by submitting notice to the NFL prior to 4 p.m. EDT on the day following the team’s final regular-season game. A team can carry over 100 percent of its remaining 2023 room to its adjusted salary cap for 2024.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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