National Football League

National Football League

National Football League
Current season, competition or edition:
2014 NFL season
Formerly American Professional Football Conference (1920)
American Professional Football Association (1920–1922)
Sport American football
Founded August 20, 1920[1]
CEO Roger Goodell
Inaugural season 1920
No. of teams 32
Country United States[upper-alpha 1]
Most recent champion(s) Seattle Seahawks (1st title)[2]
Most titles Green Bay Packers (13 titles)[2]
TV partner(s) CBS
NFL Network
Official website
The headquarters of the National Football League at 345 Park Avenue, Midtown Manhattan, New York City, USA[3]

The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league that constitutes one of the four major professional sports leagues in North America. It is composed of 32 teams divided equally between the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The highest professional level of the sport in the world,[4] the NFL runs a 17-week regular season from the week after Labor Day to the week after Christmas, with each team playing sixteen games and having one bye week each season. Out of the league's 32 teams, six (four division winners and two wild-card teams) from each conference compete in the NFL playoffs, a single-elimination tournament culminating in the Super Bowl, played between the champions of the NFC and AFC. The champions of the Super Bowl are awarded the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Various other awards exist to recognize individual players and coaches. Most games are played on Sunday afternoons; some games are also played on Mondays and Thursdays during the regular season. There are games on Saturdays during the first two playoff weekends. Sometimes, there are also Saturday games during the last few weeks of the regular season.

The NFL was formed on August 20, 1920, as the American Professional Football Conference; the league changed its name to the American Professional Football Association (APFA) on September 17, 1920, and changed its name to the National Football League on June 24, 1922, after spending the 1920 and 1921 seasons as the APFA. Following the NFL's merger with the nonprofit 501(c)(6) association. The NFL's executive officer is the commissioner, who has broad authority in governing the league.

Each team is allowed to have up to 53 players during the regular season, but only 46 can be active (eligible to play) on game days. Teams are given exclusive rights to sign free agents that have three or fewer seasons in the league, but free agents that have been in the league at least four years can sign with any team of their choosing. Each team is subject to a salary cap. The champions of the most recent season, the 2013 season, are the Seattle Seahawks, who defeated the Denver Broncos by a score of 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII. The team with the most championships is the Green Bay Packers, who have won 13 championships. The team that currently has the most Super Bowl championships is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have won six.


  • History 1
    • Founding and history 1.1
    • Season and playoff development 1.2
  • Corporate structure 2
  • Season format 3
    • Preseason 3.1
    • Regular season 3.2
    • Postseason 3.3
  • Trophies and awards 4
    • Team trophies 4.1
    • Player and coach awards 4.2
  • Media coverage 5
  • Clubs 6
  • Draft 7
  • Free agency 8
  • Fantasy football 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


Founding and history

On August 20, 1920, a meeting was held by representatives of the Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Indians, and Dayton Triangles at the Jordan and Hupmobile auto showroom in Canton, Ohio. This meeting resulted in the formation of the American Professional Football Conference (APFC), a group who, according to the Canton Evening Repository, intended to "raise the standard of professional football in every way possible, to eliminate bidding for players between rival clubs and to secure cooperation in the formation of schedules".[9] Another meeting held on September 17, 1920 resulted in the renaming of the league to the American Professional Football Association (APFA).[9] The league hired Jim Thorpe as their first president, and consisted of 14 teams. Only two of these teams, the Decatur Staleys (now the Chicago Bears) and the Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals), remain.[10]

The Akron Pros won the first APFA (NFL) Championship.

Although the league did not maintain official standings for their 1920 inaugural season and teams played schedules that included non-league opponents, the APFA awarded the Akron Pros the championship by virtue of their 8–0–3 (8 wins, 0 losses, and 3 ties) record.[11] The following season resulted in the Chicago Staleys controversially winning the title over the Buffalo All-Americans.[12] In 1922, the APFA changed its name to the National Football League (NFL).[13]

In 1932, the season ended with the Chicago Bears (6-1-6) and the Portsmouth Spartans (6-1-4) tied for first in the league standings.[14] At the time, teams were ranked on a single table and the team with the highest winning percentage (not including ties, which were not counted towards the standings) at the end of the season was declared the champion. This method had been used since the league's creation in 1920, but no situation had been encountered where two teams were tied for first. The league quickly determined that a playoff game between Chicago and Portsmouth was needed to decide the league's champion. The teams were originally scheduled to play the playoff game, officially a regular season game that would count towards the regular season standings, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, but a combination of heavy snow and extreme cold forced the game to be moved indoors to Chicago Stadium, which did not have a regulation-size football field. Playing with altered rules to accommodate the smaller playing field, the Bears won the game 9-0 and thus won the championship. Fan interest in the de facto championship game led the NFL, beginning in 1933, to split into two divisions with a championship game to be played between the division champions.[15] The 1933 season also marked the first of 13 seasons in which African Americans were prohibited from playing in the league. The ban was rescinded in 1947, following public pressure and the removal of a similar ban in Major League Baseball.[16]

Up until the 1960s, the NFL was the dominant professional football league and faced little competition. Rival leagues included three separate American Football Leagues and the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), none of which lasted for more than four seasons (although several teams from the AAFC joined the NFL after the league dissolved in 1949). A new professional league, the fourth American Football League (AFL), began play in 1960. The upstart AFL began to challenge the established NFL in popularity, gaining lucrative television contracts and engaging in a bidding war with the NFL for free agents and draft picks. The two leagues announced a merger on June 8, 1966, to take full effect in 1970. In the meantime, the leagues would hold a common draft and championship game. The game, the Super Bowl, was held four times before the merger, with the NFL winning Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II, and the AFL winning Super Bowl III and Super Bowl IV.[17] After the league merged, it was split into two conferences: the National Football Conference (NFC), consisting of most of the pre-merger NFL teams, and the American Football Conference (AFC), consisting of all of the AFL teams as well as three pre-merger NFL teams.[18]

Today, the NFL is considered the most popular sports league in North America; much of its growth is attributed to former Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who led the league from 1960 to 1989. Overall annual attendance increased from three million at the beginning of his tenure to seventeen million by the end of his tenure, and 400 million viewers watched 1989's Super Bowl XXIII. The NFL established NFL Properties in 1963. The league's licensing wing, NFL Properties earns the league billions of dollars annually; Rozelle's tenure also marked the creation of NFL Charities and a national partnership with United Way.[19] Paul Tagliabue was elected as commissioner to succeed Rozelle; his seventeen-year tenure, which ended in 2006, was marked by large increases in television contracts and the addition of four expansion teams,[20] as well as the introduction of league initiatives to increase the number of minorities in league and team management roles.[21] The league's current Commissioner, Roger Goodell, has focused on reducing the number of illegal hits and making the sport safer, mainly through fining or suspending players who break rules.[22] These actions are one of many the NFL is taking to reduce concussions and improve player safety.[23]

Season and playoff development

From 1920 to 1934, the NFL did not have a set number of games for teams to play, instead setting a minimum. The league mandated a 12-game regular season for each team beginning in 1935, later shortening this to 11 games in 1937 and 10 games in 1943, mainly due to World War II. After the war ended, the number of games returned to 11 games in 1946 and to 12 in 1947. The NFL went to a 14-game schedule in 1961, which it retained until switching to the current 16-game schedule in 1978.[24] Proposals to increase the regular season to 18 games have been made, but have been rejected in labor negotiations with the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA).[25]

The NFL operated in a two-conference system from 1933 to 1966, where the champions of each conference would meet in the NFL Championship Game. If two teams tied for the conference lead, they would meet in a one-game playoff to determine the conference champion. In 1967, the NFL expanded from 15 teams to 16 teams. Instead of just evening out the conferences by adding the expansion New Orleans Saints to the seven-member Western Conference, the NFL realigned the conferences and split each into two four-team divisions. The four conference champions would meet in the NFL playoffs, a two-round playoff.[26] The NFL also operated the Playoff Bowl (officially the Bert Bell Benefit Bowl) from 1960 to 1969. Effectively a third-place game, pitting the two conference runners-up against each other, the league considers Playoff Bowls to have been exhibitions rather than playoff games. The league discontinued the Playoff Bowl in 1970 due to its perception as a game for losers.[27]

Following the addition of the former AFL teams into the NFL in 1970, the NFL split into two conferences with three divisions each. The expanded league, now with twenty-six teams,[18] would also feature an expanded eight-team eight playoff, the participants being the three division champions from each conference as well as one 'wild card' team (the team with the best win percentage) from each conference. In 1978, the league added a second wild card team from each conference, bringing the total number of playoff teams to ten, and a further two wild card teams were added in 1990 to bring the total to twelve. When the NFL expanded to 32 teams in 2002, the league realigned, changing the division structure from three divisions in each conference to four divisions in each conference. As each division champion gets a playoff bid, the number of wild card teams from each conference dropped from three to two.[28]

Corporate structure

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

The National Football League is an unincorporated nonprofit 501(c)(6) association,[29] meaning its league office is not subject to income tax because it does not make a profit. In contrast, each individual team (except the non-profit Green Bay Packers[30]) is subject to tax because they make a profit.[31] The NFL considers itself a trade association made up of and financed by its 32 member teams.[32]

The league has three defined officers: the commissioner, secretary, and treasurer. Each conference has one officer, the president. The commissioner is elected by affirmative vote of two-thirds or 18 (whichever is greater) of the members of the league, while the president of each conference is elected by an affirmative vote of three-fourths or ten of the conference members.[33] The commissioner appoints the secretary and treasurer and has broad authority in disputes between clubs, players, coaches, and employees. He is the "principal executive officer"[34] of the NFL and also has authority in hiring league employees, negotiating television contracts, disciplining individuals that own part or all of an NFL team, clubs, or employed individuals of an NFL club if they have violated league bylaws or committed "conduct detrimental to the welfare of the League or professional football".[34] The commissioner can, in the event of misconduct by a party associated with the league, suspend individuals, hand down a fine of up to US$500,000, cancel contracts with the league, and award or strip teams of draft picks.[34]

In extremely egregious cases, the commissioner can offer recommendations to the NFL's Executive Committee up to and including the "cancellation or forfeiture"[34] of a club's franchise or any other action he deems necessary. The commissioner can also issue sanctions up to and including a lifetime ban from the league if an individual connected to the NFL has bet on games or failed to notify the league of conspiracies or plans to bet on or fix games.[34] The current Commissioner of the National Football League is Roger Goodell, who was elected in 2006 after Paul Tagliabue, the previous commissioner, retired.[35]

Season format

The NFL season format consists of a four-week preseason, a seventeen-week regular season, and a twelve-team single-elimination playoff culminating in the Super Bowl, the league's championship game.


The NFL preseason begins with the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, played at Fawcett Stadium in Canton.[36] Each NFL team is required to schedule four preseason games, two of which must be at their home stadium, but the teams involved in the Hall of Fame game, as well as any teams playing in an American Bowl game, play five preseason games.[37] Preseason games are exhibition matches and do not count towards regular-season totals.[38] Because the preseason does not count towards standings, teams do not focus on winning games; instead, they are used by coaches to evaluate their teams and by players to show their performance, both to their current team and to other teams if they get cut.[25] The quality of preseason games has been criticized by some fans, who dislike having to pay full price for exhibition games,[39] as well as by some players and coaches, who dislike the risk of injury the games have, while others have felt the preseason is a necessary part of the NFL season.[25][39]

Regular season

AFC East AFC North AFC South AFC West
1st Patriots Bengals Colts Broncos
2nd Jets Steelers Titans Chiefs
3rd Dolphins Ravens Jaguars Chargers
4th Bills Browns Texans Raiders
NFC East NFC North NFC South NFC West
1st Eagles Packers Panthers Seahawks
2nd Cowboys Bears Saints 49ers
3rd Giants Lions Falcons Cardinals
4th Redskins Vikings Buccaneers Rams

This chart displays the application of NFL scheduling formula for the Seattle Seahawks (green) after the 2013 season. The Seahawks finished first in the NFC West in the 2013 season, and will play the following teams in the 2014 regular season:

  • One home and one away game against each of their fellow NFC West teams (blue)
  • One game against each team in the NFC East (yellow), on a three-year rotation
  • One game against each team in the AFC West (yellow), on a four-year rotation
  • The Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers (yellow) once each, due to their first-place finishes in their respective divisions

The National Football League runs a seventeen-week, 256-game regular season. Since 2001, the season has begun the week after Labor Day and concluded the week after Christmas.[40] The opening game of the season is normally a primetime home game for the league's defending champion.[41]

Most NFL games are played on Sundays, with a Monday night game typically held at least once a week and Thursday night games occurring on most weeks as well.[41] NFL games are not normally played on Fridays or Saturdays until late in the regular season, as federal law prohibits professional football leagues from competing with college or high school football. Because high school and college teams typically play games on Friday and Saturday, respectively, the NFL cannot hold games on those days until the third Friday in December.[42] NFL games are rarely scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday, and those days have only been used twice since 1948: in 2010, when a Sunday game was rescheduled to Tuesday due to a blizzard, and in 2012, when the Kickoff game was moved from Thursday to Wednesday to avoid conflict with the Democratic National Convention.[43][44]

NFL regular season matchups are determined according to a scheduling formula. Within a division, all four teams play fourteen out of their sixteen games against common opponents - two games (home and away) are played against the other three teams in the division, while one game is held against all the members of a division from the NFC and a division from the AFC division as determined by a rotating cycle (three years for the conference the team is in, and four years in the conference they are not in). The other two games are intraconference games, determined by the standings of the previous year - for example, if a team finishes first in their division, they will play two other first-place teams in their conference, while a team that finishes last would play two other last-place teams in the conference.[45] In total, each team plays sixteen games and has one bye week, where they do not play any games.[46]

Although the teams any given club will play are known by the end of the previous year's regular season, the exact dates, times, and home/away status for NFL games are not determined until much later because the league has to account for, among other things, the Major League Baseball postseason and local events that could pose a scheduling conflict with NFL games. During the 2010 season, over 500,000 potential schedules were created by computers, 5,000 of which were considered "playable schedules" and were reviewed by the NFL's scheduling team. After arriving at what they felt was the best schedule out of the group, nearly 50 more potential schedules were developed to try and ensure that the chosen schedule would be the best possible one.[47]


The seeding bracket for the NFL playoffs

Following the conclusion of the regular season, a twelve-team single elimination tournament, the NFL Playoffs, is held. Six teams are selected from each conference: the winners of each of the four divisions as well as two wild card teams (the two remaining teams with the best overall record). These teams are seeded according to overall record, with the division champions always ranking higher than either of the wild card teams.[48] The top two teams (seeded one and two) from each conference are awarded a bye week, while the remaining four teams (seeded 3-6) from each conference compete in the first round of the playoffs, the Wild Card round, with the third seed competing against the sixth seed and the fourth seed competing against the fifth seed. The winners of the Wild Card round advance to the Divisional Round, which matches the lower seeded team against the first seed and the higher seeded team against the second seed. The winners of those games then compete in the Conference Championships, with the higher remaining seed hosting the lower remaining seed. The AFC and NFC champions then compete in the Super Bowl to determine the league champion.

The only other postseason event hosted by the NFL is the Pro Bowl, the league's all-star game. The Pro Bowl is held the week before the Super Bowl at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.[49]

Trophies and awards

Team trophies

The six Lombardi Trophies owned by the Pittsburgh Steelers

The National Football League has used three different trophies to honor its champion over its existence. The first trophy, the Brunswick-Balke Collender Cup, was donated to the NFL (then APFA) in 1920 by the Brunswick-Balke Collender Corporation. The trophy, the appearance of which is only known by its description as a "silver loving cup", was intended to be a traveling trophy and not to become permanent until a team had won at least three titles. The league awarded it to the Akron Pros, champions of the inaugural 1920 season; however, the trophy was discontinued and its current whereabouts are unknown.[50]

A second trophy, the Ed Thorp Memorial Trophy, was issued by the NFL from 1934 to 1969. The trophy's namesake, Ed Thorp, was a referee in the league and a friend to many early league owners; upon his death in 1934, the league created the trophy to honor him. In addition to the main trophy, which would be in the possession of the current league champion, the league issued a smaller replica trophy to each champion, who would maintain permanent control over it. The current location of the Ed Thorp Memorial Trophy, like that of its predecessor, is unknown. The predominant theory is that the Minnesota Vikings, the last team to be awarded the trophy, somehow misplaced it after the 1969 season.[51]

The current trophy of the NFL is the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Unlike the previous trophies, a new Vince Lombardi Trophy is issued to each year's champion, who maintains permanent control of it. Lombardi Trophies are made by Tiffany & Co. out of sterling silver and are worth anywhere from $25,000 to $300,000.[52] Additionally, each player on the winning team as well as coaches and personnel are awarded Super Bowl rings to commemorate their victory. The winning team chooses the company that makes the rings; each ring design varies, with the NFL mandating certain ring specifications (which have a degree of room for deviation), in addition to requiring the Super Bowl logo be on at least one side of the ring.[53] The losing team are also awarded rings, which must be no more than half as valuable as the winners' rings, but those are almost never worn.[54]

The conference champions receive trophies for their achievement. The champions of the NFC receive the George Halas Trophy[55] while the AFC champions receive the Lamar Hunt Trophy.[56] Players on the winning team also receive a conference championship ring.[57][58]

Player and coach awards

The NFL recognizes a number of awards for their players and coaches at its annual NFL Honors presentation. The most prestigious award is the AP Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.[59] Other major awards include the AP Offensive Player of the Year, AP Defensive Player of the Year, AP Comeback Player of the Year, and the AP Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards.[60] Another prestigious award is the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which recognizes a player's off-field work in addition to his on-field performance.[61] The NFL Coach of the Year award is the highest coaching award.[62] The NFL also gives out weekly awards such as the FedEx Air & Ground NFL Players of the Week[63] and the Pepsi MAX NFL Rookie of the Week awards.[64]

Media coverage

In the United States, the National Football League has television contracts with four networks: CBS, ESPN, Fox, and NBC. CBS televises Sunday afternoon AFC intraconference games, while Fox does likewise for the NFC.[65] If a game is interconference, the conference affiliation of the visiting team determines which network will host the game. Since 2011, the league has reserved the right to give games that, under the contract, would normally air on one network to the other network.[66] CBS also carries a package of eight games on Thursday nights during the 2014 season. NBC carries the primetime Sunday Night Football package, the NFL Kickoff game, and a primetime Thanksgiving Day game. ESPN carries all Monday Night Football games.[65] The NFL's own network, NFL Network, carries all Thursday Night Football games, including those on CBS but not the ones on NBC.[67]

The Super Bowl television rights are rotated on a three-year basis between CBS, Fox, and NBC.[65] In 2011, all four stations signed new nine-year contracts with the NFL, each running until 2022; CBS, Fox, and NBC are estimated by Forbes to pay a combined total of $3 billion a year, while ESPN will pay $1.9 billion a year.[68] The league also has deals with Spanish-language broadcasters Telemundo and ESPN Deportes, which air Sunday and Monday Night Football, respectively.[69][70]

The NFL has a blackout policy in which games are 'blacked out' on local television in the home team's area if the home stadium is not sold out. Clubs can elect to set this requirement at only 85%, but they would have to give more ticket revenue to the visiting team; teams can also request a specific exemption from the NFL for the game. The vast majority of NFL games are not blacked out; only 6% of games were blacked out during the 2011 season.[71] According to Nielsen, the NFL regular season since 2012 was watched by at least 200 million individuals, accounting for 80% of all television households in the United States and 69% of all potential viewers in the United States. NFL regular season games accounted for 31 out of the top 32 most-watched programs in the fall season and an NFL game ranked as the most-watched television show in all 17 weeks of the regular season. At the local level, NFL games were the highest-ranked shows in NFL markets 92% of the time.[72] Super Bowls account for the 22 most-watched programs (based on total audience) in US history, including a record 167 million people that watched Super Bowl XLVIII, the conclusion to the 2013 season.[73]

In addition to radio networks run by each NFL team, select NFL games are broadcast nationally by Westwood One (known as Dial Global for the 2012 season). These games are broadcast on over 500 networks, giving all NFL markets access to each primetime game. The NFL's deal with Westwood One was extended in 2012 and will run through 2017.[74]


The NFL consists of thirty-two clubs divided into two conferences of sixteen teams each. Each conference is divided into four divisions of four clubs each. During the regular season, each team is allowed a maximum of fifty-three players on their roster;[75] only forty-six of these may be active (eligible to play) on game days.[76] Teams can also have an eight-player practice squad separate from their main roster, but the practice squad may only be composed of players who were not active for at least nine games in any of their seasons in the league. A player can only be on a practice squad for a maximum of three seasons.[77]

Each NFL club is granted a franchise, the league's authorization for the team to operate in their city. This franchise covers 'Home Territory' (the 75 miles surrounding the city limits, or, if the team is within 100 miles of another league city, half the distance between the two cities) and 'Home Marketing Area' (Home Territory plus the rest of the state the club operates in, as well as the area the team operates their training camp in for the duration of the camp). Each NFL member has the exclusive right to host professional football games inside their Home Territory and the exclusive right to advertise, promote, and host events in their Home Marketing Area. There are several exceptions to this rule, mostly relating to teams with close proximity to each other: the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders only have exclusive rights in their cities and share rights outside of it; and teams that operate in the same city (e.g. New York Giants and New York Jets) or the same state (e.g. California, Florida, and Texas) share the rights to the city's Home Territory and the state's Home Marketing Area, respectively. The Los Angeles home territory has no team, but is "owned and controlled" by the league.[78]

Every NFL team is based in the contiguous United States. Although no team is based in a foreign country, the Buffalo Bills play one home game each year at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada as part of the Bills Toronto Series[79] and the Jacksonville Jaguars will begin playing one home game a year from 2013-16 at Wembley Stadium in London, England as part of the NFL International Series.[80] Mexico also has hosted an NFL regular-season game, a 2005 game between San Francisco 49ers and Arizona dubbed "Fútbol Americano",[81] and 39 international pre-season games were played from 1986-2005 as part of the American Bowl series.[82]


  • Official website (Mobile)
  • Pro Football Reference – historical stats of teams, players and coaches in the NFL

External links

  • "Constitution and Bylaws of the National Football League". 2006. Archived from the original on March 26, 2014. Retrieved February 2, 2013. 
  • Zimmer, John; Marini, Matt, eds. (2013). Official 2013 National Football League Record & Fact Book (PDF). New York: National Football League.  
  • "2013 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League" (PDF). National Football League. 2013. Archived from the original on March 26, 2014. Retrieved March 26, 2014. 
  • "2011-20 NFL/NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement" (PDF). National Football League. August 4, 2011. Archived from the original on March 26, 2014. Retrieved March 26, 2014. 


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  1. ^ All teams are based in the United States, but several preseason and regular season games have been held internationally.
  2. ^ The Bills play one home game a year at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada.[79]
  3. ^ a b The New York Jets and New York Giants share MetLife Stadium.[89]
  4. ^ a b c The Baltimore Ravens were originally the Cleveland Browns, and moved to Baltimore in 1996. Due to an agreement with the city of Cleveland that allowed the club to move, the Browns name, colors, and team history/records were left for a new Cleveland Browns team while the team, personnel, and staff of the old Browns team were allowed to move to Baltimore.[90] As such, the Ravens are considered to have begun play in 1996 while the current Cleveland Browns are considered to have been founded in 1950, became inactive from 1996-98,[88] and resumed play as new team in 1999.[91]
  5. ^ The Jaguars will play one home game at Wembley Stadium in London, England from 2013-16.[80]
  6. ^ The Minnesota Vikings will play at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus from 2014 to 2015 while a new facility tentatively known as Vikings Stadium is being built at the site of their former stadium, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.[92]

Explanatory notes


See also

The National Football League supports fantasy football.[114] Roger Goodell has said he believes fantasy football has brought more people into the game and is "a way to keep fan interest throughout the course of the NFL season."

Fantasy football

Clubs also have the option to use a transition tag, which is similar to the non-exclusive franchise tag but offers no compensation if the former club refuses to match the offer.[110] Due to that stipulation, the transition tag is rarely used,[111] even with the removal of the "poison pill" strategy (offering a contract with stipulations that the former club would be unable to match) that essentially ended the usage of the tag league-wide.[112] Each club is subject to a salary cap, which is set at $123 million for the 2013 season.[113]

Clubs are given one franchise tag to offer to any unrestricted free agent. The franchise tag is a one-year deal that pays the player 120% of their previous contract or no less than the average of the five highest-paid players at their position, whichever is greater. There are two types of franchise tags: exclusive tags, which do not allow the player to negotiate with other clubs, and non-exclusive tags, which allow the player to negotiate with other clubs but gives his former club the right to match any offer and two first-round draft picks if they decline to match it.[109]

Free agents in the National Football League are divided into restricted free agents, who have three accrued seasons and whose current contract has expired, and unrestricted free agents, who have four or more accrued seasons and whose contract has expired. An accrued season is defined as "six or more regular-season games on a club's active/inactive, reserved/injured or reserve/physically unable to perform lists".[108] Restricted free agents are allowed to negotiate with other clubs besides their former club, but the former club has the right to match any offer. If they choose not to, they are compensated with draft picks. Unrestricted free agents are free to sign with any club, and no compensation is owed if they sign with a different club.[108]

Free agency

Like the other major sports leagues in the United States, the NFL maintains protocol for a disaster draft. In the event of a 'near disaster' (less than 15 players killed or disabled) that caused the club to lose a quarterback, they could draft one from a team with at least three quarterbacks. In the event of a 'disaster' (15 or more players killed or disabled) that results in a club's season being cancelled, a restocking draft would be held. Neither of these protocols have ever had to be implemented.[107]

The NFL operates several other drafts in addition to the NFL draft. The league holds a supplemental draft annually. Clubs submit emails to the league stating the player they wish to select and the round they will do so, and the team with the highest bid wins the rights to that player. The exact order is determined by a lottery held before the draft, and a successful bid for a player will result in the team forfeiting the rights to their pick in the equivalent round of the next NFL draft.[102] Players are only eligible for the supplemental draft after being granted a petition for special eligibility.[103] The league holds expansion drafts, the most recent happening in 2002 when the Houston Texans began play as an expansion team.[104] Other drafts held by the league include an allocation draft in 1950 to allocate players from several teams that played in the dissolved All-America Football Conference[105] and a supplemental draft in 1984 to give NFL teams the rights to players who had been eligible for the main draft but had not been drafted because they had signed contracts with the United States Football League or Canadian Football League.[106]

Aside from the 32 picks each club gets, compensatory draft picks are given to teams that have lost more compensatory free agents than they have gained. These are spread out from rounds 3 to 7, and a total of 32 are given.[98] Clubs are required to make their selection within a certain period of time, the exact time depending on which round the pick is made in. If they fail to do so on time, the clubs behind them can begin to select their players in order. This happened in the 2003 draft, when the Minnesota Vikings failed to make their selection on time. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers were able to make their picks before the Vikings were able to use theirs.[99] Selected players are only allowed to negotiate contracts with the team that picked them, but if they choose not to sign they become eligible for next year's draft.[100] Under the current collective bargaining contract, all contracts to drafted players must be four-year deals with a club option for a fifth. Contracts themselves are limited to a certain amount of money, depending on the exact draft pick the player was selected with.[101] Players who were draft eligible but not picked in the draft are free to sign with any club.[93]

Each April (though the draft will be moved to May in 2014), the NFL holds a draft of college players. The draft consists of seven rounds, with each of the 32 clubs getting one pick in each round.[93] The draft order for non-playoff teams is determined by regular season record; among playoff teams, teams are first ranked by the furthest round of the playoffs they reached, and then are ranked by regular season record. For example, any team that reached the divisional round will be given a higher pick than any team that reached the conference championships, but will be given a lower pick than any team that did not make the divisional round. The Super Bowl champion always drafts last, and the runner-up always drafts second-to-last.[94] As all NFL players must be at least three years removed from high school, only players that are at least three years removed from high school can be drafted.[95] Underclassmen that have met that criteria to be eligible for the draft must write an application to the NFL by January 15 renouncing their remaining college eligibility.[96] Clubs can trade away picks for future draft picks, but cannot trade the rights to players they have selected in previous drafts.[97]