Free agency 101, and other important dates

As free agency nears, we have some important dates and deadlines that clubs must adhere to. To help you stay tuned in and educated to the process, the National Football Post will try to help you understand how everything works.

Important dates:

Today: First day clubs can designate franchise or transition players for 2010.

Franchise player – Each club will be allowed to designate one player per year as a franchise player who otherwise would be an unrestricted or restricted free agent. The club must tender a one-year contract in the amount that averages the top five highest-paid players from the previous year at the same position. Or, 120 percent of his prior year salary, whichever is greater.

Transition player – Each club can designate a transition player, which would required a one-year contract tendered in the amount that averages the top 10 highest-paid players at the same position. Or, 120 percent of player’s prior year salary, whichever is greater. The transition tag can be removed at any time by club, thus giving the player the right to sign with any other club.

Feb. 24: National Scouting Combine begins in Indianapolis, where the top college prospects gather to be measured, timed, watched, tested, examined (medical physicals), interviewed and quizzed by NFL personnel. However, behind the scenes, the market for free agents begins taking shape with talks among agents, salary cap managers and GMs. The combine concludes on March 2.

Feb. 26: NFL Players Association contract advisers’ (aka agents) seminar in Indianapolis. The top agents will attend this mandatory meeting and receive an update from union leaders. Since reporters sit outside the door of this meeting hawking reps for information, nothing of substance will be said. However, many sub-meetings may take place between the union and top agents.

March 4: Deadline for clubs to exercise options for 2010. Expiration date for all 2009 club contracts. Deadline for clubs to submit qualifying offers to restricted free agents. Deadline for clubs to submit minimum salary offers to exclusive free agents.

March 5: Free-agent period begins. Trading period begins for 2010.

March 12-19: NFLPA annual board of player reps meeting in Hawaii. This will be one of the most important meetings in the history of the players’ union.

March 15: Clubs may begin voluntary offseason workouts. Back to work for the players.

March 21-24: Annual owners meeting in Orlando. Expect several powerful but collective statements to come out of this meeting directed at the players (but wrapped for the fans).

April 15: Deadline for signing and submitting offer sheets to restricted free agents. This is unchartered territory because of the uncapped year that will most likely be in place. I don’t believe there will be more action than usual, but keep an eye on the Cowboys, Redskins, Seahawks and Packers making some surgical offers.

April 21: Deadline for clubs to match offer sheets to restricted free agents. I doubt we’ll see any matches take place.

May 23: NFL owners’ spring meeting in Dallas. I believe this is where owners will start formulating some serious and definitive goals, limitations and standards for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

June 1: Deadline for restricted and unrestricted free agents. If there are no offers, players will be back with their old clubs.

June 15: Deadline for restricted free agents to accept qualifying offers, if higher than 110 percent of the previous year’s salary.

July 15: Any club designating a franchise player will have until this date to sign a player to a multi-year contract or extension.

July 22: Signing period ends for unrestricted free agents to whom June 1 tender was made by old club and for transition and franchise players.

With an uncapped year in place, there could be some increased activity by wealthier clubs on smaller market clubs. Also, I’m hearing the free-agent market is not as strong as previous years, and look for older players to get low-balled and slow-played for their services.

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