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Salary Cap Nuggets - No. 10: Accrued seasons and their importance in the CBA

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This series is called Salary Cap Nuggets because ‘nuggets’ is such an interesting word in English. It calls to mind chicken nuggets - tasty, bite sized and easy to eat. But it also calls to mind gold nuggets - small, but valuable.
The salary cap is a product of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which is a 301-page contract between the NFL Owners and the NFL Players Association. In these articles, I try to explore just one or two small parts of the NFL salary cap defined in the massive CBA. Hence, Salary Cap Nuggets - small, bite-sized, easy to digest, yet valuable information for NFL fans.
The goal is to, one bite at a time, get a clear understanding of the salary cap.

Click this link for handy access to all the Salary Cap Nuggets


Page 11 of Crunching Numbers discusses the difference between two terms:

  • accrued season
  • credited season

What’s the difference between an accrued season and credited season?

The simple answer is an accrued season requires six or more regular season games at full-pay status (being on active/inactive or injured reserve list) and a credited season requires only three or more games at full-pay status. For a player to earn time served in the NFL and inch closer towards free agency, teams and agents must know how many accrued seasons (four accrued seasons required) a player has earned as he climbs his way closer towards free agency. Credited seasons also vary for players to be eligible for benefits.

For most NFL fans, the more important of the two will be accrued seasons, since that is the number that determines when a player is eligible for free agency, and may affect things like eligibility for fifth-year option.

Credited seasons are more likely to be of importance to marginal players — especially those with very short careers or who spend a lot of time moving on and off of team rosters and practice squads — as player benefits are often tied to credited seasons. Some things that are likely to interest fans, such as a player’s minimum salary, are based on credited seasons rather than accrued seasons.

Pages 84 & 85 of Crunshing Numbers provide more details on the definition of accrued seasons:

An accrued season is a season during which a player has been on a team’s roster for six or more regular season games.

  • Players will receive an accrued season while on the team’s roster, receiving their full pay while on the active/inactive lists and injured reserve list.
  • Players will not receive an accrued season while on the team’s practice squad, physically unable to perform (PUP), non-football injury (NFI), or the Exempt Commissioner Permission list.
  • A player does not have to earn accrued seasons in consecutive years. Many players may go years in between earning an accrued season.

Free Agency definitions

  • A player with less than three accrued seasons is classified as an exclusive rights free agent.
  • A player with three accrued seasons but less than four accrued seasons is classified as a restricted free agent.
  • Lastly, a player with four or more accrued seasons is classified as an unrestricted free agent, as long as they are not given the one-year franchise/transition tag by their team, which would delay that player hitting unrestricted free agency by at least one year.