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Breaking down the NFL collective bargaining agreement: Definitions

It's time to educate ourselves! We're going to start breaking down the NFL CBA article by article. We won't hit every single article, but we'll hit the notable ones. We're starting with a breakdown of important definitions.


Back in the summer of 2011, the NFL and the NFLPA agreed to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement. The ten year deal has not guaranteed complete labor peace, but it's gotten things moving forward. In the first three years of the deal, there was talk that the players had been dominated by the owners. This season, we are finally starting to see some improvement in the salary cap for player spending. As long as there are so few guarantees in contracts, it will never be perfect for them, but it's what we have in front of us.

When the CBA was released for public consumption, I knew I wanted to take some time to break it down for Niners Nation readers. I went to law school with the hopes of becoming a labor lawyer, and while I now find myself working full time for Vox Media (SB Nation's parent company), I still enjoy flexing my brain on legal matters. I never got around to these breakdowns, but some articles by our friends at Bolts from the Blue (our Chargers blog) have inspired me to get to it. Things are pretty quiet right now, so it seems as good a time as any. Thanks to Maximilian Schultz, who has done some great work for Bolts from the Blue in breaking down the CBA. And much like any good thing on the Internet, I have absconded with it for my own nefarious purposes!

My breakdowns are going to be somewhat similar to Maximilian's work, only I want to provide 49ers examples to help explain things. The plan is to break down the CBA by the more notable articles. There are 68 articles plus 15 appendices. We won't be looking at every single aspect of it, but we'll hit a good portion of it. I don't know how often the posts will arrive, although some will be situated around the specific events they cover. For example, we'll have the offseason workout program portion of this on or before April 21, when the 49ers begin their program.

Please feel free to drop questions in the comments. I'm not a labor expert, but I think I know enough that I can either answer your question, or point you in the direction of a potential answer. Also, feel free to check out the CBA in searchable PDF format.

We're going to start with some basic definitions. I've grabbed the terms Maximilian defined, and added a couple other terms that are of note. If you'd like any other terms defined, let me know and I'll add them in.

Accrued Season vs. Credited Season

The CBA includes Accrued Season (AS) and Credited Season (CS) in varying fashions throughout the CBA. They are applicable to different aspects of player contracts and free agency status. Each requires a different number of games to attain a "season" of service. An accrued season requires 6 or more regular season games at full pay status, while a credited season only requires 3 or more games at full pay status.

Accrued Season (AS): "[A]ny playing season for which a player received credit with respect to his qualifications for Unrestricted Free Agency or Restricted Free Agen­cy."

  • Calculation: A player gets 1 AS for each season: 1) they are under contract with a team and 2) they are on full pay status (Active/Inactive roster and Injured Reserve list for 6 or more regular season games). Players do not qualify if they are on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list as a result of a non-football injury, the Practice Squad, or the Exempt Commissioner Permission List.

Credited Season (CS): This term comes from the Bell/Rozelle retirement plan in place for the NFL. If you are down to read about pensions and whatnot, you can check out this PDF. "Credited" seasons are used for determining pension and minimum salary eligibility, while accrued seasons are for free agency purposes.

  • Calculation: A player gets 1 CS for each season: 1) they are under contract with a team and 2) they are on full pay status (Active/Inactive roster and Injured Reserve list for 3 or more regular season games). Players do not qualify if they are on the Non-Football Injury list (NFI) list, the Practice Squad, or the Exempt Commissioner Permission List.

For examples, we can look at a couple 49ers. Marcus Lattimore was signed to a 4-year contract, but spent the entire season on the Non-Football Injury List. That means, he did not gain an accrued or credited season. For purposes of moving toward free agency, he gained nothing this year, and will be the AS and CS equivalent of a rookie in 2014.

Chris Culliver spent the entire 2013 season on injured reserve, but he still gained his accrued season toward free agency. He signed a 4-year deal in 2011. If he plays in 2014 (or gets injured and ends up on IR), he would become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Finally, Darryl Morris started the season on the practice squad. He was activated to the 53-man roster for Week 4, and was a game-day active the remaining 13 games of the regular season. That allowed him to gain both an accrued and credited season. I can't find any specific examples where a player played enough games for a credited season, but not enough for an accrued season.


Any player with at least one accrued season. That means Marcus Lattimore is NOT a "veteran", while Eric Reid is now a veteran.

League Year

The one year stretch starting in mid-March and lasting through the following March. This year, the league year began on March 11.

Minimum Salary/Paragraph 5 Salary

The fifth paragraph of the standard player contract is where compensation is discussed. Paragraph 5 salary is any player's salary, so the minimum salary is one type of Paragraph 5 salary. Minimum Salaries are laid out in Article 26, and we'll discuss that in more detail down the road.

Minimum Salary Benefit

This was created to provide incentive for teams to sign veterans with 4+ credited seasons. As players age, the minimum required salary increases to the point where it's easier to just draft a younger player. The benefit provides that if a team signs a veteran with 4 or more credited seasons, and they meet certain requirements in the contract, the player's cap hit will be that of a 2nd year player.


1. The contract can only be for 1 year
2. The player is paid the mandated minimum for a player with his service time
3. The contract contains no terms affecting compensation to exceed $50,000 (covers signing bonus, workout bonus, roster bonus, or other incentives
4. The salary cannot be guaranteed for more than the equivalent of a second year player base (so that portion of the total veteran minimum salary he is due)

Contract Tender

Basically means offering a contract to a player. The term is generally used for restricted and exclusive rights free agents, as well as franchise and transition players. The process requires a contract be "tendered" to the player.

Exclusive Rights Player

An Exclusive Rights Player, or Exclusive Rights Free Agent, is a veteran with less than 3 accrued seasons. An ERFA technically is not under contract to the team, thus why "free agent" is included in the term. However, it is exclusive in the sense that a player either signs the contract tendered by the team, or he does not play in the NFL. A team does not have to tender a contract to the player, in which case then he would become an unrestricted free agent. The tender must be made by the beginning of the new League year.

Heading into this season, Michael Wilhoite was an exclusive rights free agent. Next offseason, the following players would be exclusive rights free agents if they are on the 49ers 53-man roster this season: WR Brandon Carswell and DT Tony Jerod-Eddie. For 2016, OG Ryan Seymour would be an exclusive rights free agent.

Restricted Free Agent

A Restricted Free Agent is a Veteran with 3 (but not greater) accrued seasons. An RFA can sign with any team, but is subject to Right of First Refusal (RoFR) and, possibly, Draft Choice Compensation (DCC). The level of compensation is based on the tender.

This past season, DT Demarcus Dobbs was a restricted free agent. The 49ers tendered him at the most basic right of first refusal. That means, if he were to sign an "offer sheet" elsewhere, the 49ers would be able to match the offer. If they chose to let him leave, they would get no compensation.

Next season, their restricted free agents will include TE Garrett Celek and LB Michael Wilhoite. In 2017, Marcus Lattimore would likely be a restricted free agent. Although he will have been with the 49ers for four seasons, he spent the first season on the NFI list, so for free agency purposes, he will only have three accrued seasons.

Right of First Refusal

The right of the prior team to meet the offer given by a new team, keeping the player at the specified contract amount. This and DCC are the key parts of the restriction on RFAs.

Draft Choice Compensation

Depending on the offer tendered by the prior team, they can receive draft picks from the new team if they choose to provide a better offer to the RFA. There are 1st round, 2nd round and original round tenders. We'll go into more detail in the coming months.

Unrestricted Free Agent

A Veteran with four or more accrued seasons, or any other player not subject to RoFR and DCC. Perrish Cox was a restricted free agent this past year, but the 49ers did not tender him an offer. In doing so, he became an unrestricted free agent.

Next offseason, the 49ers free agents include: CB Chris Cook, WR Michael Crabtree, CB Chris Culliver, DT Demarcus Dobbs, DL Glenn Dorsey, QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Frank Gore, RB Kendall Hunter, OG Mike Iupati, QB Colin Kaepernick, WR David Reed, LB Dan Skuta, LB Aldon Smith, OG Adam Snyder, S C.J. Spillman, FB Will Tukuafu, S Raymond Ventrone.

Franchise Player

A team may designate a UFA or RFA with the Franchise tag, in order to maintain rights to the player. A Non-Exclusive Tender allows another team to gain rights to the player in exchange for two 1st round draft picks. An Exclusive Tender only allows the player to sign with the prior team, or not at all.

If the 49ers are unable to sign Colin Kaepernick to a long term deal by next offseason, they have the option of using the franchise tag. The 49ers last used the franchise tag in 2012 on FS Dashon Goldson, and previously on NT Aubrayo Franklin in 2010.

Transitional Player

If a team chooses not to use the franchise tag, the transition tag offers a team the right of first refusal on contracts. If the team does not match the offer, they gain no compensation for the loss. I do not believe the 49ers have ever used the transition tag.

That's about it for now. If you are looking for additional terms, let me know. I can answer in the comments, but will also make sure and add them to the article. The idea is that I will turn this into a story stream, and place it up in the "Library" (top center of the front page). That way, when people have questions about certain language we use, I can quickly link to that.