When a player is cut from a team or has his contract expire, he is free to sign with any team and is considered a free agent. The first list he will go to is the waiver wire (replenished during initialization and each signing round), where teams can submit bids with the "Waiver Wire Bids" button in your team control menu. You may submit any bid you wish (so long as it meets the contract rules given in the contracts command information, but a player will refuse to sign any multi-year contract for less value than his asking price (the web control screen should check both of these for you). (Note that you may make a one-year offer below his stated minimum.) Be warned when submitting your bids: if you sign a free agent other than your own restricted free agents or franchise players, you will not be allowed to trade him until the next season! If you are over budget, you may only sign players for $0.04 million for one year.
These orders will be processed during the next free agent signing round. When this happens, all players will be put into an order determined by the value of bids submitted for them, the most-valued player being run first and the least-valued player being run last and each taking the best bid (as defined by a combination of the bid value, contract length, and asking price). Any unsigned players from the waiver wire move to the free agent list, where they can be signed by any team at any time for $0.04 million with the "Sign Free Agents" button in your team control menu.
Waiver Wire Orders
Since waiver signings are the primary source of veteran players, it is important to understand how they run and how to build your signing instructions. Signings are run in auction-style, meaning that each player is signed in turn. The overall order depends on the players' skill levels (as determined by the computer) and the amount of money teams are offering to sign them. Your team's signing instructions are sent with the "Waiver Wire Bids" button in your team control menu. If, when a player comes up in the signings, you are still trying to sign players in that particular player group, your team will offer the selected bid to get him. The exception is if you are over budget or have exceeded your spending allotment, in which case the bid is lowered as necessary. A bid on a restricted free agent or francise player must include a signing bonus.
Players may be divided into groups in the signing orders. This allows you to divide your potential signees, generally into positions, and try to sign a certain number of each. A basketball coach may want a center, a forward, and two guards, and would thus make one group with the prospective centers (max 1 signing), one with forwards (max 1 signing), and one with guards (max 2 signings). Note that the players need not be mutually exclusive; in the above example it is quite likely that some of the taller prospective forwards would also be considered at center.
When you make out your orders for signings, you must keep in mind that the order in which players are signed may not be the order of priority that you would like them. In other words, if you are considering signing three point guards, A, B, and C with decreasing skill level, it may be that player C comes up first. The choice of whether or not to pursue such a player can be made by setting the priorities in the signing orders - you have the option of attempting to sign player C if he comes up before A and B or not attempting to sign him. Setting players A and B with priorities 2 or more greater than that of C will cause C to be skipped while signings of A and B are pending.
Note that coaches using their demo season have a maximum they are allowed to bid. This rule was put into place to prevent abuse of the demo season policy, but serves a secondary purpose of making it harder for inexperienced owners to ruin their teams' futures by tying up too much money on overpaid players. The maximum bids differ by sport as follows:
- Baseball: $6.0 million
- Basketball: $10.0 million
- Football: $6.5 million QB, $4 million defense, $3.6 million offense, $1.6 million kicker
- Hockey: $5.0 million
- Soccer: $4.0 million
Depending on the sport, there may be restricted, unrestricted, franchise, and exclusive franchise free agents. These may be distinguished by the character next to their asking salary. Unrestricted agents have nothing special to designate them. Restricted free agents are in all sports, and have an letter (A-C) by the salary indicating the level of required compensation, respectively. In football, franchise players have a Y, while exclusive franchise players have a Z.
Restricted free agents are designated by their former teams, and can be anyone whose contract expired and who is under the age limit for his sport (27 football, 28 basketball, 31 hockey, any age in baseball). In baseball, the lack of an age limit is compensated by the fact that players are only eligible for restricted free agency if they will not renegotiate with their team for $7.5 million through normal salary negotiations.
In sports other than baseball, restricted free agents have minimum bid levels equal to the qualifying offer made by the former team. If no other team makes a bid on the player greater than the qualifying offer, he will accept the qualifying offer and return to his former team. There are two advantages of having a restricted free agent. First is that, if if the former team signs that player from the free agent list, he will sign for the amount of the second-highest bid (or the qualifying offer amount if there wasn't one) instead of a value between the highest bid and the second-highest, as is normally the case. (This essentially lets the former team match anyone else's offer up to a maximum.) Secondly, if the player is not signed during free agency, he returns to the former team with a relatively inexpensive salary.
Restricted free agnets in baseball are handled differently. At season initialization, players have the option of agreeing to a one year, $7.5 million contract with their former team. Players that decline are treated as normal, unrestricted free agents during the bidding process (the former team gets no advantage). If a player remains unsigned after the first round of free agency, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Hockey, baseball, and football provide compensation if another team signs your restricted free agent, of up to a first-round pick. The compensation awarded depends on the free agent class (shown after the player's abilities) as follows:
If a pick of the appropriate round is not available to be given, the team will not be allowed to make the signing. If the team signing the free agent has multiple picks in that round, the later pick will be given. Note that all baseball compensation involves first-round picks.
- A: next 3rd rounder
- B: next 2nd rounder
- C: next 1st rounder
Franchise players, only present in football, are more complex. Each team may designate one franchise player during the time before the start of the season, unless it re-signed one of its franchise players in a previous year and still has him under contract. A standard franchise player may be bid on by any team, but has a minimum bid of 75% the exclusive minimum bid. If he is signed by a different team, his owning team will receive two first round picks. An exclusive franchise player can only be bid on by his owning team, and has a minimum bid of:
If you designate a franchise player and sign him, you cannot designate another franchise player until your franchise player's contract expires, the player retires, or until the offseason after the player is traded.
- QB: $13 million
- Other offense: $7.2 million
- Defense: $8 million
- Kicker: $3.2 million
If a restricted free agent is not signed by another team but your roster is full, he will be signed to a 1-year deal and immediately cut. Thus his bonus (30% of his contract value) will be added to your salary to be paid out in the upcoming season. If a franchise free agent is in the same situation, another player on your roster will be cut, and the franchise free agent will be signed in his place. Neither situation is ideal, so you are advised to be especially careful with your roster size if you have restricted or franchise free agents.