Professional Football Player Designations

The National Football League owners and the NFL Players Association (the union that represents the interests of the players) have agreed upon certain terms when discussing the status of a football player within the league.

The following list explains some frequently heard words used to describe players (and the people who broker contract deals for them), as well as some terminology that relates to a player’s experience or active status:

  • Accrued season: A season when a player spends six or more regular-season games on a club’s active/inactive list, injured reserve list, or “physically unable to perform” list.

  • Agent: A person who represents players during contract negotiations. Many agents are attorneys, and some are friends and relatives of the players they represent. Agents are banned from most college campuses.

  • First-year player: Either a player who has spent the preceding season on an NFL practice squad or a player who has never played before.

  • Franchise player: A team can designate only one of its players as a franchise player. This player may not apply to become a free agent and seek a higher salary from another team. In exchange for giving up this right, the franchise player is paid a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at his position or 120 percent of his previous salary, whichever is greater.

  • Injured reserve: A team can place an injured player who’s deemed a physical risk in the injured reserve category. Usually, these players require surgeries for their injuries. A player in this category can’t return to the active roster (and play again) during that season.

  • Practice squad: Each team can place eight players on the practice squad. These players, who are eligible only to practice, are considered free agents. Teams routinely sign players from other teams’ practice squads in order to complete their weekly 45-man active rosters when they lose players due to injury or release them due to poor performance.

  • Pro-Bowler: A player who’s selected by a vote of the fans, players, and coaching staffs to represent his conference in an all-star game that takes place the week before the Super Bowl. Any player chosen to play in the Pro Bowl is considered among the league’s elite.

  • Restricted free agent: A player who has completed three accrued seasons and now has an expired contract. Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the club basically controls what he will be paid.

  • Rookie: A player who’s on an NFL roster for the first time. A player who has played in another league, such as the Canadian Football League or the Arena Football League, is still considered a rookie by the NFL.

  • Transition player: A team can designate no more than two transition players in the same season (as long it doesn’t also have a designated franchise player). This player’s club must pay him the average of the prior season’s top ten salaries of players at the same position or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. A transition player can seek a contract from another team, but his current team has seven days to match the offer and thus retain his services.

  • Unrestricted free agent: A player who has completed four or more accrued seasons and now has an expired contract. Such a player is free to negotiate and sign a new contract with any team.

  • Veteran: Has played at least one season in the NFL.

  • Waiver system: A procedure by which a player’s contract or NFL rights are made available by his current team to other teams in the league. Teams may waive a player if they no longer need him.

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