The next week of the off-season is one of the busiest of the year while also being one of the most important. There’s enough going on we decided to break it down a little bit to help digest everything that will happen between now and Wednesday morning.
Today, Friday, is the last full day a team can have exclusive negotiating rights with a player who is a pending free agent. This means if the Chiefs cannot get a deal done today or by 11 a.m. central tomorrow with players like Geoff Schwartz, Jon Asamoah, Branden Albert, and Dexter McCluster then they will have to start competing with the offers coming from opposing clubs. While it isn’t impossible for the Chiefs to re-sign those players if they have to compete with other teams it does become more difficult and, therefore, more unlikely they’ll stay in Kansas City.
MARCH 8 (3 p.m.)
The unofficial start to free agency is Saturday at 3 p.m. central when pending free agency can start visiting and negotiating contracts with all 32 teams. Players cannot agree to contracts at this time but they can have the outline of a contract figured out and ready to sign once free agency actually begins.
Consider this three day period between March 8 and March 11 to be a short recruiting season for the NFL where “signing day” would be March 11. NFL teams will do everything they can to get there free agent targets in and away from all other prospective teams in order to land their target.
March 11 counts as “New Year’s Day” for the NFL and is therefore one of the most important days in the NFL. There are seven things that are activated on NFL New Year’s Day.
1. All teams must make a decision whether or not exercise options for players with option clauses in their contract. This is common for first round draft picks who have completed their first four years in the NFL. Eric Berry, for example, has an option year for 2015. This decision has to be made before 3 p.m. central.
2. Restricted free agents must be offered a qualifying offer before 3 p.m. central. Kansas City had four restricted free agents after the end of the seasons: Ricky Henry, Jerrell Powe, Richard Gordon, and Robert James. The Chiefs have already re-signed Gordon and Henry in February and just released James on Thursday. Powe is the only player left on the list with a decision still pending.
3. Teams must tender contracts to players with expiring 2013 contracts less than three accrued seasons of free agency credit in order to keep exclusive negotiating rights. This is mostly affects practice squad type players as it relates to the Chiefs.
4. All 2013 player contracts expire at 3 p.m. central. This means all players contracts would move to the 2014 portion of their deals. If there isn’t a 2014 deal then the player becomes a free agent.
5. Trading period for 2014 begins at 3 p.m. central. Remember when we knew Alex Smith was going to be traded to the Chiefs last February but we had to wait until March for it to become official? This is why. NFL New Year’s counts as the mechanism to reactive trading after the trade deadline which happened last October.
6. Free agency opens at 3 p.m. This is when pending free agents like Branden Albert and Jairus Byrd can sign deals with a team other than their current team. Terms for deals for some players are worked out during the recruiting period between March 8-11 which is why so many players will sign with different teams shortly after the 3 p.m. opening.
While free agency remains open for the rest of the off-season, most of the top players in the free agent class are signed shortly after the start of free agency. This doesn’t mean a guy like Byrd or Albert will sign by March 12 or 13 but it wouldn’t be a surprise if it happened. It is atypical for a high calibre free agent to remain on the market very long. This is the case mostly because teams want to have a good idea of what their roster is going to look like for 2014 heading into the draft so they can change their big boards or maneuver their way around the draft via trade to get certain targets.
7. Top-51 begins. Every team’s top 51 contracts must be under the league’s salary cap by 3 p.m. central. Kansas City is well under the cap so there is no worries about not being able to get below $133 million by 3 p.m. on the 11th.
During the off-season only the top 51 contracts on each team is counted against salary cap (with a few minor exceptions). Kansas City cannot go over the cap at any point of the year but they do have a little bit more leeway with only having to count the top 51 contracts against the cap during the off-season. The Chiefs can also designate a cut as a June 1 cut so as to save some extra money against the cap while also spreading out the dead money a over two seasons.
Also keep in mind the Chiefs salary cap is not actually $133 million but is likely a little bit higher. More than $2.3 million in unused salary cap space from 2013 can be rolled over to 2014, and the Chiefs can also add some cap room from likely and unlikely player incentives from 2013 to 2014′s cap. So the Chiefs actual salary cap could be closer to $136 million.
And that’s it. Not much going this week in the NFL, yeah?