There seems to be some confusion over whether or not Detroit Lions wide receiver Kris Durham has earned the right to become a restricted free agent.
ESPN’s Michael Rothstein lists Durham as a restricted free agent when discussing Durham in his Lions free agency series yesterday. However, Tim Twentyman label’s Durham an exclusive rights free agent in his recent summary of Lions free agents on DetroitLions.com.
Rothstein acknowledges the confusion and cites a league source who says Durham is a restricted free agent. Even if the Lions are intent on bringing Durham back regardless of whether he is an exclusive rights or restricted free agent, the distinction isn’t a small point for a team with salary cap concerns. The difference in money is on the order of $750,000 considering an original round tender is based on Durham being a fourth-round pick of the Seahawks in 2011.
So, what’s the deal? Let’s go to the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement in search for answers.
Here is what the CBA says about exclusive rights players:
Any Veteran with less than three Accrued Seasons whose contract has expired may negotiate or sign a Player Contract only with his Prior Club, if before the first day of the League Year after the expiration of his contract, his Prior Club tenders the player a one year Player Contract with a Paragraph 5 Salary of at least the Minimum Active/Inactive List Salary applicable to that player. A player receiving such a Tender shall be known as an “Exclusive Rights Player.”
And regarding restricted free agents.
Any Veteran player with three Accrued Seasons, but less than four Accrued Seasons shall, at the expiration of his last Player Contract during such period, become a Restricted Free Agent.
The issue comes down to the number of accrued seasons. Natural question; what is an accrued season?
For the purposes of calculating Accrued Seasons under this Agreement, a player shall receive one Accrued Season for each season during which he was on, or should have been on, full pay status for a total of six or more regular season games, but which, irrespective of the player’s pay status, shall not include games for which the player was on: (i) the Exempt Commissioner Permission List, (ii) the Reserve PUP List as a result of a nonfootball injury, or (iii) a Club’s Practice Squad.
Alright, not too bad. So if all three of Durham’s seasons meet the standard of an accrued season, he will be a restricted free agent. If one or more do not fit that definition, he will be an exclusive rights free agent.
2011 – Durham played in three games for the Seahawks as a rookie. While that doesn’t meet the requirement of an accrued season by itself, Durham was on “full pay status” while inactive or on injured reserve. This counts as an accrued season.
2012 – Durham signed with the Lions in early September but did so as a member of their practice squad. The Lions signed Durham off their practice squad later in the year but only four games remained. Four is less than six and the definition of an accrued season clearly excludes time spent on the practice squad. I don’t see any way this can be considered an accrued season.
2013 – As a bigger part of the Lions offense and member of the 53-man roster from day one, this season easily qualifies as an accrued season.
With just two of Durham’s three seasons meeting the standard of an accrued season as defined by the collective bargaining agreement, Durham should be classified as an exclusive rights free agent.
Update: The notion that Durham may be a restricted free agent was based on bad info. He is an exclusive rights free agent.
Just to clarify something from a couple days ago, I got bad info on Durham's FA status initially. He is exclusive rights FA, not restricted.
— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) February 13, 2014