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NFL Free Agency Begins Today

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                    <span style="">FREE AGENCY SIGNING PERIOD BEGINS; 444 PLAYERS BECOME FREE AGENTS</span>
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The National Football League today announced that 444 players are free agents who now can negotiate with all 32 clubs.

The free agents include 9 players who this year were designated by their clubs as non-exclusive "franchise" players. A franchise player is a special category for restricted and unrestricted free agents. The deadline for making these designations for 2009 was February 19.

2009 NON-EXCLUSIVE FRANCHISE PLAYER DESIGNATIONS
Arizona Karlos Dansby LB
Baltimore Terrell Suggs LB
Carolina Julius Peppers DE
Cincinnati Shayne Graham K
Houston Dunta Robinson DB
St. Louis Oshiomogho Atogwe DB
San Diego Darren Sproles RB
Seattle Leroy Hill LB
Tennessee Bo Scaife TE

Five other players – Atlanta punter MICHAEL KOENEN, New England quarterback MATT CASSEL, New York Giants running back BRANDON JACOBS, Pittsburgh tackle MAX STARKS and Tampa Bay wide receiver ANTONIO BRYANT – were designated as non-exclusive franchise players but have already signed their contracts.

There are two types of franchise players. Clubs retain exclusive negotiating rights to an "exclusive" franchise player by committing to a minimum offer of the average of the top five salaries at the player's position for the current year as of April 17, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, or the average of the top five salaries at his position as of the end of last season – whichever of the three is greater. Other clubs cannot negotiate with exclusive franchise players. There are no exclusive franchise player designations this year.

The second type of franchise player is offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries of last season at his position, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary. This "non-exclusive" franchise player may negotiate with other clubs. His original club may match and retain the player, or receive two first-round draft choices as compensation if it decides not to match a new club's offer.

Each club is permitted one franchise designation in any year of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. A franchise player may sign a multiyear contract with his current club until July 15. After July 15, any contract signed by a franchise player can only be for one year.

Also, a club may designate a transition player in lieu of a franchise player in any year when the franchise designation is available. A transition player designation gives the club a first-refusal right to match within seven days an offer sheet given to the player by another club. To designate a transition player, the club must offer a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of last season at the player's position, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, whichever is greater. There are no transition player designations this year.

A club may withdraw a franchise or transition designation and the player then automatically becomes an unrestricted free agent either immediately or when his contract expires. The club cannot name a new franchise or transition player that year. It can name a new franchise or transition player the next year.

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