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Free Agency Signing Period Begins; 481 Players Become Free Agents

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The National Football League Wednesday announced that 481 players are free agents who now can negotiate with all 32 clubs.

The free agents include six players who this year were designated by their clubs as "franchise" players, and one who was named a "transition" player. Franchise and transition players are special categories for restricted and unrestricted free agents. The deadline for making these designations for 2004 was February 24.

COMPLETE NFL FREE AGENT LISTS

Restricted: NFC | AFC

Unrestricted: NFC | AFC

2004 FRANCHISE & TRANSITION DESIGNATIONS

Franchise Players

CB Champ Bailey, Washington

S Donovin Darius, Jacksonville

DE Darren Howard, New Orleans

T Walter Jones, Seattle

CB Chris McAlister, Baltimore

T Orlando Pace, St. Louis

LB Julian Peterson, San Francisco *

CB Charles Woodson, Oakland *

* Exclusive franchise player.

Transition Players

T John Tait, Kansas City

In 2003, eight players were designated as franchise players and two as transition players.

There are two types of franchise players. Clubs retain exclusive negotiating rights to an "exclusive" franchise player by committing to a minimum offer of the average of the top five salaries at the player's position as of the end of the restricted free agent signing period on April 16, or a 20 percent increase over his 2003 salary, whichever is greater. Other clubs cannot negotiate with exclusive franchise players. Two exclusive franchise players were named this year - San Francisco linebacker Julian Peterson and Oakland Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson.

The second type of franchise player is offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at his position in the 2003 season, or a 20 percent salary increase, whichever is greater. This type of franchise player may negotiate with other clubs. His original club may match the offer and retain the player, or receive two first-round draft choices as compensation if the original club elects not to match.

Each club is permitted one franchise designation in any year of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. If a franchise player signs a multiyear contract with his current club between February 25 and March 17 at 4:00 PM ET, the club retains its franchise player designation for the following league year. After March 17, if the player signs a multiyear contract while under this designation, the club exhausts its franchise player rights for each year of that contract unless it matched another club's offer for that player, in which case the designation is used only for that year. Any club which elected not to use its franchise player designation in 2004 retains franchise designation rights for 2005 and subsequent years of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, provided the club did not exhaust those rights from a previously signed franchise player.

Also, a club may designate a transition player in lieu of a franchise player in any year when the franchise designation is available. A transition player designation gives the club a first-refusal right to match an offer sheet given to the player by another club. To designate a transition player, the club must offer a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of 2003 at the player's position, or a 20 percent salary increase, whichever is greater.

In the event a player retires, suffers a career-ending injury or is otherwise unavailable due to non-football circumstances, a club has the right to designate another franchise or transition player for the remaining years covered by the club's prior designation.

A club may withdraw a franchise or transition designation at any time. The player becomes an unrestricted free agent when that withdrawal occurs, and the team can use one of the designations on another player at the appropriate time.

Unrestricted veteran free agents are players who have completed four or more accrued seasons of service and whose contracts have expired. They are free to sign with any club through July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later). On July 23, their exclusive rights will revert to their original club if that club makes a June 1 tender to these players. Teams will have until the 10th week of the season (November 9) to sign their unrestricted veteran free agents to whom a tender was made on June 1. If the player does not sign by November 9, he must continue to sit out the remainder of the season. If a June 1 tender is not made to an unrestricted free agent, he continues to be free to sign with any club.

Restricted free agents are players who have completed three accrued seasons of service and whose contracts have expired. They have received qualifying offers from their old clubs and are free to negotiate with any club until April 16, at which time their rights revert to their original club. If a player accepts an offer from a new club, the old club will have the right to match the offer and retain the player. If the old club elects not to match the offer, it may receive draft-choice compensation depending on the level of the qualifying offer made to the player.

The signing period for unrestricted free agents began today (March 3) and concludes on July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later). The signing period for restricted free agents also began today but concludes on April 16.

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