Everything you need to know about NFL free agency, 2012

Everything you need to know about NFL free agency, 2012
Despite injury concerns, Peyton Manning is sure to be one of the most sought after free agents in 2012.

Just in time for NFL free agency, which kicks off on Tuesday, March 13, 3:00 PM (CT), the NFL informed all 32 teams of the 2012 salary cap figure on Sunday, which is now set at $120,600,000. In addition, the League announced the exact franchise tag figures for each position, as listed below . . .

Position Cap Pct Avg
QB $14,436,000
RB $7,742,000
WR $9,515,000
TE $5,446,000
OL $9,383,000
DE $10,605,000
DT $7,960,000
LB $8,856,000
CB $10,281,000
S $6,212,000
K/P $2,654,000

Those are official numbers via the NFL. In an effort to provide you with even more insight, however, I thought I’d list all 32 NFL teams along with their estimated cap figures below. But there are at least four things we need to know before we look at them . . .

  1. There are approximately 60 pages in the current CBA affecting the salary cap and how that number is figured. And it’s still not all in there. Some things count, some things don’t. It’s the reason why every NFL team employs a “capologist” to help keep them on track. I am not a “capologist”. Forgive my ignorance.
  2. Although the NFL set the 2012 cap figure at $120,600,000, teams may borrow up to (approximately) $2,000,000 from future years, effectively setting the cap at $122,600,000.
  3. Teams may carry over any unused space from 2011 to 2012 but must apply to the League in writing to do so. I refrained from including every team’s unused space in the chart below (mostly because I don’t know them). The Bears' estimate, however, is about $7,000,000, which puts them at close to $30 mill under the cap.
  4. Finally, 2012 is the last year in which there is no cap floor, meaning teams can spend as little as they want. Bears will have to spend close to all of their unused space next season, so there is not a huge incentive to do so this year.

Having said that, unofficially . . .

  • Bengals:  $49.9 million under.
  • Broncos:  $44.7 million under.
  • Buccaneers:  $42.7 million under.
  • Jaguars:  $40.6 million under.
  • Chiefs:  $32.5 million under.
  • Redskins:  $31.1 million under.
  • Bills:  $30.8 million under.
  • Seahawks:  $29.8 million under.
  • Titans:  $28.1 million under.
  • Bears:  $22.6 million under.
  • 49ers:  $21.8 million under.
  • Browns:  $17.4 million under.
  • Patriots:  $16.2 million under.
  • Chargers:  $14.9 million under.
  • Ravens:  $14.45 million under.
  • Dolphins:  $11.8 million under.
  • Colts:  $11.6 million under.
  • Steelers:  $10.5 million under.
  • Eagles:  $9.6 million under.
  • Vikings:  $7.9 million under.
  • Jets:  $7.1 million under.
  • Falcons:  $5.8 million under.
  • Packers:  $5.4 million under.
  • Saints:  $5.2 million under.
  • Cowboys:  $4.7 million under.
  • Rams:  $1.2 million under.
  • Giants:  $3.8 million over.
  • Texans:  $4.7 million over.
  • Panthers:  $5.3 million over.
  • Raiders:  $7.4 million over.
  • Lions:  $11.5 million over.
  • Cardinals:  $16.4 million over.

And finally, the NFL released a very useful Q&A regarding 2012 NFL free agency on Sunday. Anything you ever wanted to know is listed below . . .

Q. When does the 2012 free agency signing period begin?

A. At 4:00 PM ET on Tuesday, March 13.

Q. What are the categories of free agency?

A. Players are either "restricted" or "unrestricted" free agents. Within the categories are also “franchise” and "transition" players.

Q. What is the time period for free agency signings this year?

A. For restricted free agents, from March 13 to April 20. For unrestricted free agents who have received the June 1 tender from their prior Club, from March 13 to July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later). For franchise players, from March 13 until the Tuesday following the 10th week of the regular season, November 13.  If a franchise player does not sign by November 13, he must sit out the season.  There are no transition player designations this year.

Q. What is the difference between a restricted free agent and an unrestricted free agent?

A. In the 2012 League Year, players with three accrued seasons become restricted free agents when their contracts expire. Unrestricted free agents have completed four or more accrued seasons. An unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any club with no draft choice compensation owed to his old club.

Q. What constitutes an "accrued season"?

A. Six or more regular-season games on a club's active/inactive, reserved/injured or reserve/physically unable to perform lists.

Q. Other than accrued seasons, what determines a restricted free agent?

A. He has received a "qualifying offer” (a salary tender predetermined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players) from his old club. He can negotiate with any club through April 20. If the restricted free agent signs an offer sheet with a new club, his old club can match the offer and retain him because it has a "right of first refusal." If the old club does not match the offer, it may receive draft choice compensation depending on the amount of its qualifying offer. If an offer sheet is not executed on or before April 20, the player’s negotiating rights revert exclusively to his old club.

Q. What determines an unrestricted free agent?

A. A player with four or more accrued seasons whose contract has expired. He is free to sign with any club, with no draft choice compensation owed to his old club, through July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later). At that point, his negotiating rights revert exclusively to his old club if by June 1 the old club tendered the player a one-year contract for 110 percent of  his prior year’s salary. His old club then has until the Tuesday following the 10th week of the regular season (November 13) to sign him. If he does not sign by that date, he must sit out the season. If no tender is offered by June 1, the player can be signed by any club at any time throughout the season.

Q. What determines a franchise player?

A. The salary offer by a player's club determines what type of franchise player he is: exclusive or non-exclusive. An “exclusive” franchise player – not free to sign with another club – is offered the greater of (i) 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 20; or (ii) the amount of the Required Tender for a non exclusive franchise player, as explained below.

The methodology for calculating the Required Tender for a non exclusive franchise player has changed. Formerly, such players were tendered a one year NFL Player Contract for the average of the five largest Prior Year Salaries for players at the position at which the Franchise Player played the most games during the prior League Year, or 120% of his Prior Year Salary, whichever is greater.

Article 10, Section 2(a)(i) of the CBA sets forth the new methodology, known as the “Cap Percentage Average,” for calculating the Required Tender for such a player: The Nonexclusive Franchise Tender shall be a one year NFL Player Contract for (A) the average of the five largest Prior Year Salaries for players at the position . . . at which the Franchise Player participated in the most  plays [formerly, “games”] during the prior League Year, which average shall be calculated by: (1) summing the amounts of the Franchise Tags for players at that position for the five preceding League Years; (2) dividing the resulting amount by the sum of the Salary Caps for the five preceding League Years . . . ; and (3) multiplying the resulting percentage by the Salary Cap for the upcoming League Year . . . (the “Cap Percentage Average”) . . . ; or (B) 120% of his Prior Year Salary, whichever is greater . . . .

If a club extends a Required Tender to a non-exclusive franchise player pursuant to this section, the player shall be permitted to negotiate a player contract with any club, except that draft choice compensation of two first-round draft selections shall be made in the event he signs with a new club.

Q. How many franchise and transition players can a team designate each season?

A. A club can designate one “franchise” player or one “transition” player among its potential free agents.

Q. Can a club decide to withdraw its franchise or transition designations on a player?

A. Yes.  A club can withdraw its franchise or transition designation and the player then automatically becomes an unrestricted free agent, either immediately or when his contract expires.

Q. After withdrawing the designation, can a club then designate another player?

A. Not in the 2012 season.

Q.  What is the salary cap for 2012?

A.  The salary cap is $120,600,000 per club.

Q.  When do teams have to be in compliance with that number and be under the cap?

A.  At the start of the 2012 League Year, which begins at 4:00 p.m. ET on March 13.

Q.  If a team is under the salary cap at the end of a given season, can the team carry over room to the next season?

A.  Yes.  A team may “carry over” room from one League Year to the following League Year by submitting notice to the NFL prior to 4:00 p.m. ET on the day before the team’s final regular-season game indicating the maximum amount of room that the club wishes to carry over.

Q.  What is the maximum amount of room that a club can carry over?

A.  One hundred percent of its remaining room

Filed under: Free Agency

Tags: Salary Cap


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  • Geez, this is like reading Leviticus.

    Another thing mentioned is that a team now has so much under the cap, but how much is left after signing draft picks and tagged players? For instance, is the Bears' $22.6 million under after assumedly having to sign Forte for the $7.74 million tag? Similarly, how do the Colts come out after having cut Manning, but having to pay Luck?

  • In reply to jack:

    Yeah, sometimes you just have to put out the raw info . . .

    Matt Forte has been tagged, so the $7.74 million has already been applied to the $22.6 million figure. That could change, of course, if the Bears remove the tag and sign him to a long-term deal. The Bears will have to figure around at least another $7 million to sign draft picks.

  • In reply to Adam Oestmann:

    "Applied to" is still confusing. Does it now mean that the amount available is $22.6-7.4 = $15.2 million, or was there originally $30 million available, and the $7.4 was subtracted from that?

    Also, there were the news stories yesterday that Dallas and Washington had to reduce their caps for the benefit of the other teams because signings in the uncapped year put them over the current cap. What's the deal with that, and is that why it was reported that Peppers had to renegotiate his deal when the work stoppage ended?

  • fb_avatar

    I think I actually know the answer to this question but just to make sure what happens if a restricted free agent doesn't sign his offer sheet by the draft? Or I guess he doesn't get an outside offer? What I'm trying to figure out is there a way da Bears can go through the draft as is and if the player they want doesn't fall to them can they sign a guy like Mike Wallace AFTER the draft and give up next year's first round pick? Thanks!

  • In reply to the DCHAV:

    Restricted free agents have until five days prior to the current year's draft to sign any tender offer from their club. The incentive to do so is that the tender guarantees them a cooresponding salary based on the tender level. If they do not sign, they simply become a restricted free agent, meaning they give their team first right of refusal on any offer they receive in free agency. The team, of course, would have to match the offer. Long story, short . . . no, the Bears cannot give up next year's pick to obtain Wallace unless it was via trade. But Steelers would first have to own Wallace's contract to trade.

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