5 Important Things to Know About NFL Free Agency

by | Mar 11, 2019 | Articles, Dallas Cowboys History, The League, The Team

You’ll hear a lot about “free agents” in the next few weeks as the NFL 2019 free agency market opens March 13. That’s the date teams can begin signing free agents with the negotiating window opening on March 11. But what exactly is a ‘free agent’ and how does it affect the league and the players?

 Here are 5 Things to Know About NFL Free Agency:



is a player who can sign with any team because he’s not under contract. Think of it as being single, able to date anybody you like. The good news: you can flirt with any team you like and try to get the best deal. You may end up getting a big pay raise because you will get paid whatever the market will bear, maybe even a big signing bonus. The bad news about being a free agent: you’re not tied to anyone. You are not under contract. You’re unemployed. You may get a big pay raise, but you may also get a pay cut. Even worse, you may not get signed at all.

You’re playing the waiting game, hoping for the phone to ring. As for NFL teams, they cannot always spend as much money as they want. They have to keep their spending under a salary cap. So, it’s not like a credit card with an unlimited spending amount; you have to fit all the players on your roster within the 2019 cap of $188 million.



There are different levels of free agency and the levels are based on how many years you’ve played in the league.

*An UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT is a veteran player with four or more years in the NFL whose contract has expired. He can sign with any team.

In addition to Cole Beasley, another Cowboys-related example is linebacker Damien Wilson. He just finished his fourth season with the Cowboys and his contract is expired. He is free to sign with any team. Will the Cowboys immediately sign Wilson? Possibly. But it’s more like the Cowboys wait to see what kind of deal Wilson gets on the open market; then the Cowboys will decide whether or not they want to bring back Wilson to a new deal, or let him sign for more money with another team.

*A RESTRICTED FREE AGENT has three-or-less years in the NFL, but their contracts have expired. A team can keep its restricted free agent by giving them a Qualifying Offer which means the player can negotiate with others until a deadline in the spring, but the original team still has a right to match that offer and keep the player. If the team doesn’t match the offer, the team gets a draft pick as compensation (the pick depends on the qualifying offer, so if the offer is the pay worth a 3rd round pick, the team would get a 3rd round pick as compensation; the higher the draft round, the more money for the offer).

*An EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENT is a player with two-years of experience whose contract has expired. He cannot shop his services to other teams. The team owns his rights. The only way he can sign with another team is if their original team releases him.



Quarterback Nick Foles led the Eagles to their first championship and was named MVP of the Super Bowl, but he was released by the Eagles and is now a free agent.

Chris O’Meara via AP

He is the top free agent quarterback on the market this year.

Running back Le’Veon Bell is another superstar player who will command big money in free agent. Bell was a member of the Steelers, but did not play last season because he was unhappy with being the Franchise Player and not receiving a long-term contract.

Safety Landon Collins of the NY Giants is a free agent, and he’ll be one of the players to watch in free agency. Another top safety, Eric Weddle, is one of the best defensive players in the NFL. He’s been to six Pro Bowls as a member of the Chargers and later the Ravens. The Ravens released him earlier this week, so he’s now a free agent and can sign with any team.

Cole Beasley is now a free agent. Will the Cowboys bring him back, or will he make bigger money by signing with another team?



Players that were members of the 2018 Cowboys, but now are unrestricted free agents that can sign with another team include: WR Cole Beasley, WR Tavon Austin, RB Rod Smith, TE Geoff Swaim, OT Cameron Fleming, LS L.P. Ladouceur, LB Damien Wilson, LB Joe Thomas, DL Datone Jones, FB Jamize Olawale, and DT Caraun Reid.

DeMarcus Lawrence was designated by the Cowboys as their 2019 Franchise Player, so he is not available on the open market to sign with another team.

Mary Jo Walicki via Milwaukee Journal Sentinel



Arguably the most impactful free agent signing was defensive end Reggie White’s decision to sign in Green Bay in 1993, the first offseason featuring free agency in the NFL.

Considered the best defensive force in the game and the #1 prize in free agency, White took his talents to Lambeau Field which – at that time – was a perennial loser. With White on defense – and a young QB named Brett Favre coming into his own – the Packers charted a course for success. Green Bay, as a small market team in Wisconsin, was not regarded as a desirable destination at that time. The perception changed when Reggie White signed for 4 years, $17 million.

The most impactful free agent signing in Cowboys history is cornerback Deion Sanders in Week 2 of the 1995 season. The previous year, Sanders signed with the 49ers, helping them to a Super Bowl championship, and tipping the scales of the Cowboys-49ers rivalry towards San Francisco. After his 1 year with the 49ers, Deion hit the open market again, signing with Dallas for 7 years, $35 million. He helped propel the Cowboys to their third Super Bowl championship of the 1990s, and tipped the scales back towards the Cowboys.

By the way, quarterback Tony Romo was a free agent signing, too. He was undrafted out of college in 2003, so he could sign with any team as a rookie free agent. He chose the Cowboys, which altered the course of team history.