September 21, 2023
Learn about the ins and outs of Restricted Free Agency (RFA) in the NFL with this comprehensive guide. This article breaks down the definition of RFA, benefits and drawbacks of being an RFA, how to navigate the contract negotiations, and what this means for a player's long-term career plans. Statistical analysis is also provided comparing RFA to other tiers of free agency and a call to action is made to help players and teams successfully navigate RFA.


Restricted Free Agency (RFA) is a term used in the NFL to describe a player who has completed their rookie contract and has three accrued seasons of experience but has received a qualifying offer from their current team. In this article, we will define and explain the RFA designation, discuss the intricacies of contract negotiations, and provide players and teams with the tools to navigate the complex landscape of RFA.

Demystifying Restricted Free Agency in the NFL: What It Means for Players and Teams

The RFA designation is one of the many tiers of free agency available to players in the NFL. Unlike unrestricted free agents who can sign with any team they choose, restricted free agents have a limited market as they can only negotiate with the team that gave them a qualifying offer.

The purpose of a qualifying offer is to give a team the right of first refusal to match any offer made by another team on one of its players. For example, if a team offers a restricted free agent a contract and that player signs it, the team that extended the qualifying offer has the right to match that contract and retain the player.

Essentially, the qualifying offer acts as a form of protection for the teams and ensures that they maintain some level of control over their players. It also provides players with a guaranteed salary that is often higher than what they would receive if they were an unrestricted free agent.

Navigating the Tiers of Free Agency: Understanding the RFA Designation in the NFL

There are several tiers of free agency available to NFL players. These include unrestricted free agency (UFA), exclusive rights free agency (ERFA), and, of course, restricted free agency (RFA).

UFA is the most well-known tier and it is available to all players who have completed their rookie contracts and have accrued four or more seasons. This tier allows players to sign with any team they choose and often leads to significant paydays. On the other hand, ERFA is reserved for players with two or fewer accrued seasons and typically involves a minimum salary contract.

RFA is a bit more complex and falls somewhere between UFA and ERFA in terms of salary and player movement. While RFA players do have some marketability, they are limited in their options because they can only negotiate with the team that gave them a qualifying offer.

Breaking Down the Contract Negotiations of an NFL Restricted Free Agent

The process of negotiating a contract as an RFA can be a bit more complicated than it is for UFAs or ERFAs. For one, the window for negotiations is relatively short, and teams generally have only a few weeks to come to an agreement with their RFA players.

In addition, contract negotiations with RFAs often involve a bit more back-and-forth than they do with other tiers of free agency. This is because teams are often hesitant to offer too much money up front and may want to match any offers made by other teams.

In recent years, several notable RFAs have gone through contentious contract negotiations. In 2019, for example, the Dallas Cowboys and running back Ezekiel Elliot went through a prolonged negotiation period that lasted most of the preseason. Eventually, the two sides agreed to a six-year contract extension worth $90 million.

Key terms and conditions in an RFA contract include signing and roster bonuses, base salary, and years on the contract. Additionally, some teams may choose to include incentives and performance-based clauses that increase the contract’s total value if certain conditions are met.

The Pros and Cons of Being a Restricted Free Agent in the NFL

There are several advantages and disadvantages to being an RFA in the NFL. On the one hand, RFA players typically make more money than their ERFA counterparts and are guaranteed a contract with their incumbent team. On the other hand, RFA players have limited options for negotiating with other teams and may be forced to stay with their current team even if they would prefer to move on.

Another significant disadvantage of being an RFA is that there is a great deal of uncertainty around future contracts. Unlike UFAs who may be able to negotiate multi-year deals with other teams, RFAs are only guaranteed a one-year contract with their incumbent team. This can make it difficult for players to plan for the future and can also impact their long-term earning potential.

From RFA to UFA: How Restricted Free Agency Impacts a Player’s Long-Term Career Plans

Restricted free agency is just one piece of the larger puzzle when it comes to a player’s overall career trajectory. For players who have performed well under their rookie contracts, RFA can be an opportunity to prove their worth to their team and increase their earning potential in the years to come.

However, for players who have struggled with injuries or performance issues, RFA can be a bit more challenging. These players may struggle to negotiate a favorable contract and may find themselves in a position where they are stuck with their current team for another year.

One strategy that many players employ when negotiating as an RFA is to emphasize their growth potential and willingness to work hard to improve their game. By doing so, players can build rapport with their teams and potentially negotiate more favorable contracts in the years to come.

Crunching the Numbers: A Statistical Analysis of Pay and Performance Among NFL Restricted Free Agents

When it comes to pay and performance, RFAs fall somewhere in the middle of the pack compared to other tiers of free agency. In a recent analysis conducted by ESPN, it was found that the average salary for RFAs was $3.1 million, which was significantly higher than what ERFAs typically make but lower than the average salary for UFAs.

Additionally, RFAs tend to perform about on par with UFAs, though there is a bit more variability in performance from year to year. This may be due, in part, to the uncertainty around future contracts and the limited movement available to players under the RFA designation.


Restricted free agency is a complex and often confusing aspect of NFL free agency. However, by understanding the ins and outs of the RFA designation and the associated contract negotiations, players and teams can navigate the process with greater ease. Additionally, it is important for players to understand how RFA fits into their overall career trajectory and to employ strategies that will increase their long-term earning potential.

If you are an RFA looking to negotiate your next contract, or a team looking to extend a qualifying offer to one of your players, make sure to keep these considerations in mind to make the most of the designation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *