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

What is an NFL exclusive rights free agent? How do ERFAs differ from unrestricted and restricted free agents?

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 2024.

What Is an NFL Exclusive Rights Free Agent?

An exclusive rights free agent is a player with two or fewer accrued seasons and an expired contract. This contrasts 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 injured reserve and the physically unable to perform list also get credit toward an accrued season.

Conversely, 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 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 is 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 will receive no compensation. If a player doesn’t receive a qualifying offer — or if that offer is eventually rescinded —  he will not count against the NFL’s compensatory pick formula.

Teams have to tender ERFAs by the beginning of the NFL’s league year. In 2024, the league year will start at 4 p.m. ET on March 13.

Which Players Are Exclusive Rights Free Agents in 2024?

Over 50 players are scheduled to become exclusive rights free agents in 2024. Let’s run through the top names.

Rashid Shaheed, WR, New Orleans Saints

Kickoffs could become more critical if the NFL changes its rules heading into 2024, making Rashid Shaheed more valuable than he already is. Last season, Shaheed posted 719 receiving yards and five touchdowns, four of which came on catches of 30+ yards.

The Saints are expected to release Michael Thomas this offseason, so Shaheed should have a more significant role alongside fellow wideout Chris Olave.

Nate Landman, LB, Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons cut Nate Landman in Dec. 2022, re-signing him to their practice squad before inking him to a futures contract the following January — and they’re certainly glad they did.

Landman, who went undrafted out of Colorado two years ago, started 14 games and played three-quarters of Atlanta’s defensive snaps in 2023, shining as a downhill run defender. He’ll play in a new scheme and under a new coordinator next season, but Landman’s trajectory is pointing upward.

Cameron Dicker, K, Los Angeles Chargers

After years of kicker problems, the Chargers have found a stable option.

Cameron Dicker made 31 of 33 field goal attempts, including seven of nine from 50+ yards. His only two misses were a 53-yarder against the Minnesota Vikings in September and a blocked 50-yarder versus the Denver Broncos in December. Dicker also converted all 35 of his extra points.

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