What Is an NFL Exclusive Rights Free Agent, and How Do They Affect NFL Free Agency?

What is an NFL exclusive rights free agent, and who are the best players to carry that designation heading into free agency in 2023?

With NFL free agency on the horizon, what does the term exclusive right free agent (ERFA) mean? Let’s examine how a player becomes an exclusive rights free agent and who will carry that designation in 2023.

What Is an NFL Exclusive Rights Free Agent?

An exclusive rights free agent is a player with just two or fewer accrued seasons and an expired contract. This is in contrast to a restricted free agent (three accrued seasons) or an unrestricted free agent (four or more accrued seasons).

To accrue a season, a player must have been on a team’s roster for six or more regular-season games during that year. However, the player does not need to be active for games to accrue a season. Players on the injured reserve and the physically unable to perform list also get credit toward an accrued season.

However, a player on a practice squad, non-football injury list, or the commissioner’s exempt list does not get credit for an accrued season if they are not on the roster for six or more games. Additionally, a player under contract must report to his team’s training camp on his mandatory reporting date to earn an accrued season.

How Do NFL Teams Retain Their Exclusive Rights Free Agents?

Keeping an ERFA is simple for NFL teams. All they have to do is extend a qualifying offer to the player, and he will be unable to negotiate with other teams. A “qualifying offer” is a one-year contract at the league minimum salary based on the player’s experience level.

If an exclusive rights free agent is given a qualifying offer, he has no recourse other than to play for his current team. His only other option would be not to play football.

MORE: NFL Franchise Tag — What it is and how it works

If a team does not extend the qualifying offer, the player can sign with any team in the league, and his original team would receive no compensation. If a player doesn’t receive a qualifying offer — or if that offer is eventually rescinded —  he would not count against the NFL’s compensatory pick formula.

Teams have to tender ERFAs by the beginning of the NFL’s league year. In 2023, the league year will start at 4 p.m. ET on March 15.

Which Players Are Exclusive Rights Free Agents in 2023?

Nearly 50 players are scheduled to become exclusive rights free agents in 2023. Let’s run through the top names.

Mike Jackson, CB, Seattle Seahawks

After being selected in the fifth round of the 2019 draft by the Cowboys, Mike Jackson bounced around the league, spending time with the Lions and Patriots before latching on with the Seahawks in 2021. In his first season as a starter, Jackson played 94% of Seattle’s defensive snaps and allowed only 5.7 yards per target.

Nick Leverett, G, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Nick Leverett started 10 games at right guard for the Buccaneers in 2022, and Tampa Bay will surely tender him for next season. He might not slot back in as a starter — with center Ryan Jensen returning, Robert Hainsey could take over at left guard and move Leverett into backup duty.

Brock Wright, TE, Detroit Lions

Brock Wright became the Lions’ primary tight end after they traded T.J. Hockenson to the Vikings at the deadline. All told, he made 10 starts, hauled in 18 catches for 216 yards and four touchdowns, and was a key contributor on special teams. Detroit will likely look for TE upgrades this offseason, but Wright should be back.

Greg Dortch, WR, Arizona Cardinals

After entering the season with three career NFL catches, Greg Dortch came out of nowhere to post 52 receptions, 467 yards, and two touchdowns in 2022. He was also Arizona’s primary return man. Dortch outperformed former second-round pick Rondale Moore last season and could again be featured in the Cardinals’ offense, especially if Arizona trades DeAndre Hopkins.

Michael Hoecht, EDGE, Los Angeles Rams

The Rams moved Michael Hoecht from the defensive interior to the edge midway through the 2022 campaign and received outstanding results as the former undrafted free agent registered 4.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits. He has a chance to remain a starter next season, especially given that Los Angeles will release edge rusher Leonard Floyd.

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