There weren't too many blockbuster signings at the skill positions last year, but it's a pretty good skill position class this year for free agency so we'll be closely watching to see which studs re-sign and which ones seek out a new home. After a three-day negotiating period for teams, the new league year officially begins on March 9 at 4 p.m. Eastern, giving the NFL a primetime free agency special, and it’s possible many of the top names in this article are locked up in the days – or even hours – after the new league year starts (there’s always flurry of activity as soon as 4 p.m. hits).

In this article series, we will have an extensive list and analysis of all of the key free agents in the NFL this off-season (and quite a few guys who aren’t so key). Some of these guys will make an impact next year, and many will not. We have you covered either way.

To start, a primer on the 2017 free agency process:

These are terms you’ll hear a lot in this article and over the next few weeks. These brief descriptions should have you adequately prepared for the whole process.

Unrestricted Free Agent

Any NFL player who has accrued four or more years of service time and has an expired contract. An unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any team in whatever situation for whatever contract he deems most beneficial, with no penalty to the acquiring team.

Restricted Free Agent

Any NFL player who has accrued three years of service time and has an expired contract. Restricted free agents are free to negotiate on the open market. Once a player is given an offer sheet, his previous team has a seven-day “right of first refusal” period to match the offer.

If the controlling team declines, the acquiring team could be forced to pay a draft-pick penalty for signing that player to a contract, the cost of which is depending on the RFA tender offered to the player by his previous club. On the flip side, if a player is not offered an RFA tender by his club, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Teams can also work out trades with interested parties, adjusting the terms any draft-pick compensation the player’s RFA tender would require (the Dolphins and Patriots did this in 2007 with Wes Welker).

Exclusive Rights Free Agent

Any NFL player who has accrued two or fewer years of service time and has an expired contract. The term “free agent” is a misnomer, in that the player has no contract, but his rights are controlled by his team unless that team willingly decides to release him. If an exclusive rights free agent is tendered a contract (at the veteran minimum), he must sign it if he wishes to play because he has no negotiating power.

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