KC Chiefs have some restricted free agency decisions ahead
By Matt Conner
With free agency coming up on the offseason calendar, let’s look at what restricted free agency means and how it impacts the Chiefs.
Few times in the NFL calendar are as exciting as what everyone calls “free agency,” but the truth is that free agents are signed year-round. And it’s also true there are different types. It’s not surprising, then, that some fans can get confused about what things mean around this time in an NFL offseason
Typically when we talk about free agency in the NFL, we are actually talking about unrestricted free agency. That means that a player can sign with any team at any time for any amount (for the most part), and it’s the frenzy that people refer to near the start of a new league year in mid-March.
There are, however, other forms of free agency and one of those is restricted free agency (RFA). For a player to become a free agent, he needs four seasons of service in the National Football League, per the collective bargaining agreement, to reach the open market, but there are exceptions by which a player can reach a free agency of sorts even after just three years.
What is a restricted free agent?
A restricted free agent is any player who has three seasons of service in the league who originally signed with their team as a rookie free agent—that means they went undrafted. Remember every contract for a player in the draft is automatically four years long, meaning a team has four seasons of cost-controlled talent in a slotted financial system (each pick above makes more than the pick below).
It’s also possible that someone reaching RFA status is a formerly released player signed by a new team to a one-year deal whose contract is now expired. A team that wants to maintain a hold on such a player can do so for up to three seasons, but at that point, they must deal with the restricted free agent system.
There are four potential “tender” offers that a team can place on a restricted free agent, and that team must decide whether or not to apply one by the start of the new league year. In this case, that would be March 15.
What are the tender offers for RFAs?
For a restricted free agent, a team like the Chiefs have the option of placing one of four tenders on them—similar to a franchise or transition tag. There are four levels of tenders but that also means there are four levels of salary associated with RFAs. Those totals, per Over the Cap, are as follows:
- First round tender ($6.0M)
- Second round tender ($4.3M)
- Original round tender
- Right of first refusal ($2.6M)
The goal of a tender offer of any kind is to maintain control. In each instance, the team that applies the tender has the right to match any contract offer that player negotiates with another team.
The name of the tender offer is the exact compensation it would require another team to pay in order to sign that player away. If the Chiefs placed a second-round tender on a player, then a new team would have to negotiate a new contract with him and then also pay the Chiefs a second-round pick. An original round tender simply means whatever round the player was drafted in is what the new team must pay, and a right of first refusal just means there’s no compensation but at least the original team has the chance to say yes or no to any newly-signed agreement.
What does this mean for the Chiefs?
The Chiefs have two players who will hit restricted free agency in 2023 and both of them are important.
Tommy Townsend is coming off of a truly unbelievable season as the team’s punter. In his third season, he made the Pro Bowl and showed exemplary power and accuracy with his ability to pin opponents deep in their own territory. Now with Townsend ready to hit the market, the Chiefs have to make up their mind about what to do with his future.
The same can be said for defensive lineman Turk Wharton. He missed much of this season after suffering a torn ACL, but he was a versatile player on the rise before he was sidelined. WIth Khalen Saunders headed for free agency along with Carlos Dunlap and Derrick Nnadi, it’s a key time to keep Wharton around to see how he grows going forward.