Start of the NFL League Year

One of the great things about team sports is that no matter how poorly your team performs during one season, the next season is right around the corner. Every team is undefeated again. It’s out with the old, in with the new!

While football is a team sport, on and off the field, the teams that best manage the cap and team construction during the offseason help to set the tone for the coaching staff during the season.

Out with the old.

Most league business for the year is complete by the time the Super Bowl champion is crowned. However, player contracts, if an expiring contract, do not end when the season ends. Rather, players technically remain under contract until 4 p.m. on the first day of the new league year.

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Additionally, teams can make maneuvers prior to the end of the league year to protect that team’s rights to a player whose contract is about to expire, by doing any of the following, if applicable:

  • Prior to 4 p.m. on the last day of the league year, clubs must exercise options for 2019 on all players who have option clauses in their 2018 contracts.
  • Prior to 4 p.m. on the last day of the league year, clubs must submit qualifying offers to their Restricted Free Agents with expiring contracts to retain a Right of First Refusal/Compensation. Restricted Free Agents are those players who have obtained three accrued seasons of free agency credit by the end of the then current league year.
  • Prior to 4 p.m. on the last day of the league year, clubs must submit a minimum salary tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2018 contracts who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit.
  • Top 51 Rule begins. All clubs must be under the 2019 Salary Cap prior to 4:00 p.m
  • During the designated timeframe (which ends before the last day of the league year), teams must determine whether they will place a franchise or transition tender on one of their players to retain certain rights to that player beyond the expiration of that player’s contract. See our Franchise and Transition Tag post for an explanation of these designations.

Additionally, this is the time of the year when many teams will restructure or extend contracts for players that will remain under contract into the new league year. Typically, this is to create salary cap space for the team to make additional moves once the league year begins.

CBA TIP… One example of a contract restructure that can create additional salary cap room is the conversation of salary to into a signing bonus. If there is more than one season remaining on the agreement or the contract is extended as part of the restructuring, this allows the team to prorate the signing bonus over the remaining years of the contract (up to five), creating cap space for the current season. Benefits from the player’s perspective include that a signing bonus could convert salary that is not guaranteed to guaranteed, and the restructure could also move up the date when the payment gets made to the player. Keep in mind though, that if a player is later traded or released during the term of that agreement, that signing bonus proration will accelerate if more than that year remains on the contract and could cause cap (not cash) problems for the team in the future.

In with the new.

The start of the league year is the time when free agents can start to sign contracts and trades can again be completed.

The beginning of the trading season

Every year news leaks of player trades prior to the beginning of the league year. While discussions may take place between teams, these trades can not be completed until the beginning of the league year.

This year, some of the trades that leaked prior to the end of the league year, and were completed shortly after the beginning of the 2019 league year included:

The start of free agency.

By the start of free agency, players not under contract know whether they will truly be free to sign with the team of their choice, or if their incumbent team will use one of the mechanisms above to retain certain rights to the player in accordance with the CBA.

The reality is that prospective free agents may already have a good idea prior to the new league year of where they will end up, thanks to the legal tampering period that the league has created for the days leading up to the start of the league year (and the not legal tampering that takes place at the NFL Scouting Combine and in other conversations leading up to the start of free agency).

Some of the more noteworthy free agent signings thus far in this very young league year include:

For an updated list of trades and free agent transactions see here.

For more detail as it relates to the CBA implications of trades and free agency, please review the CBA and our CBA Summary.

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