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What is an NFL exclusive rights free agent, and how do they affect NFL free agency?

What is an exclusive rights free agent in the NFL, and who are the best players to carry that designation heading into free agency in 2021?

What is an NFL exclusive rights free agent, and how do they affect NFL free agency?
LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 22: A football on the field before a NFL football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Washington Football Team on November 22, 2020 at FedExField in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

With NFL free agency on the horizon, what is meant by the term exclusive right free agent (ERFA)? Let’s take a look at how a player becomes an exclusive rights free agent and the main names set to carry that designation in 2021.

What is an NFL exclusive rights free agent?

An exclusive rights free agent is a player who has 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 have accrued a season, a player needs to 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. Additionally, players on injured reserve and the physically unable to perform list also get credit towards an accrued season.

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However, a player on a practice squad, non-football injury, or the commissioner’s exempt list do not get credit for an accrued season if they are not on the full roster for six or more games. Moreover, 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 keep hold of their exclusive right free agents?

Keeping an ERFA is simple for NFL teams. They just have to extend a qualifying offer to the player, and he is unable to negotiate with another team. A “qualifying offer” is simply a one-year contract at the league minimum salary.

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If a team does not extend the qualifying offer, the player can negotiate with other teams in the league. Consequently, with the player free to sign with another team, his original franchise gets no compensation.

Who are exclusive right free agents in the 2021 NFL season?

The most notable players to have been ERFA during the 2020 offseason were Gus Edwards and Levi Wallace. Edwards played out the season with the Baltimore Ravens and will enter 2021 as a restricted free agent. Wallace played for the Buffalo Bills in 2020, recording a sack on Lamar Jackson in the Bills’ playoff victory over the Ravens.

With both Edwards and Wallace now restricted free agents, who are the most notable exclusive right free agents this offseason?

Greg Ward, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

Ward’s NFL career began to spark into life in 2019. He played in seven games, starting three. In those games, he recorded 28 receptions for 254 yards and a touchdown.

In 2020, he backed that up with 53 receptions, 419 yards, and 6 touchdowns. Ward has a chance to be a key part of the Eagles’ offense after he was retained as an exclusive rights free agent in 2021.

Alex Singleton, LB, Philadelphia Eagles

Singleton bounced around the NFL after going undrafted in 2015. His career took him to the Canadian Football League, where he won the Grey Cup with the Calgary Stampede.

He was signed by the Eagles in 2019 but made just 5 combined tackles. However, in 2020, Singleton registered 120 combined tackles, intercepted a pass, and recovered 2 fumbles. He became an important piece of the Eagles’ defense and was retained as an exclusive rights free agent in 2021.

Nik Needham, CB, Miami Dolphins

Needham has spent two seasons with the Miami Dolphins. He has played a total of 1,359 defensive snaps for the Dolphins and has been a relatively under-the-radar part of their defense.

In 2019, Needham allowed just a 58 percent completion rate on 74 targets. However, he allowed 8 touchdowns in 2019, and another 3 in 2020. In total, across his two seasons, Needham has 4 interceptions, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble.

Allen Lazard, WR, Green Bay Packers

Lazard became somewhat of a star for the Green Bay Packers over the last two years. His career numbers do not stand out, but Lazard made key receptions in crucial moments. In the 2020 NFL Playoffs, Lazard had 158 yards and a touchdown on 7 receptions.

Boston Scott, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

Boston Scott becomes the third Philadelphia Eagles’ exclusive rights free agent on this list. Scott was active for just two games in 2018 but has logged 141 carries and 49 receptions in the two seasons since. He has a total of 1,035 yards from scrimmage and 7 touchdowns in his career.

Scott proved his value to the Eagles as a backup to Miles Sanders in 2020. He should remain on the roster heading into the 2021 season.

Want more NFL news and analysis?

Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@PFN365) to stay up to date with all things around the NFL. Also, continue to visit Pro Football Network for NFL news and in-depth analysis concerning the 2021 season and beyond.

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