2020 WNBA free agency tracker: Things to know, timeline, dates, ranking key free agents

Given the nature of the WNBA's marathon offseason, the league mostly goes into hibernation during the winter, especially with a majority of the players heading overseas to play in Europe, Asia and Australia. But as we move closer to the spring, things start heating up again. 

That has definitely been true this season, as in the last few weeks alone the league and players' association came to terms on a new eight-year collective bargaining agreement, Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore announced she'll sit out a second straight season and Wings guard Skylar Diggins-Smith said she wants out of Dallas

Now, it's time to head to one of the biggest portions of the offseason: free agency. So far, we've seen Angel McCoughtry leave the Dream to sign with the Aces, Kristi Tolver return to the Sparks and DeWanna Bonner traded to the Sun. And that was just in the first two days. In the days since, the Wings traded Skylar Diggins-Smith to the Mercury, the Sun traded Courtney Williams to the Dream and Seimone Augustus stunned everyone by signing with the Sparks. 

As the action continues, here is everything you need to know about 2020 WNBA free agency:

When does it start?

Teams can start negotiating with players on Tuesday, Jan. 28, but like the NBA, the WNBA has a moratorium period. This means that no contracts can be officially signed until Feb. 10.

How does WNBA free agency work?

For the most part it works in the same way as the NBA. Once free agency opens, teams can negotiate contracts with players, and there are certain classifications that players fall into. There are unrestricted free agents, who are able to talk with and sign with any team, and restricted free agents, whose prior team has the ability to match any contract offer. 

In the WNBA there are also reserved players. These are players who have played three or fewer seasons, and their prior team has exclusive negotiating rights. Often these are veterans who came into the WNBA later in their career, but they can also be younger players who either went undrafted, or for whatever reason were no longer on their rookie-scale contract. 

Furthermore, the WNBA has a special designation called "core players." It operates similar to a franchise tag in the NFL, and gives teams exclusive negotiating rights with the player. Teams often use this on star players, but they must be strategic in doing so, as a player can only be "cored" three times in their career. 

Core players

These are players who have been designated as core players by their teams, who now have exclusive negotiating rights. One key note here is that while the Wings made Diggins-Smith a core player, she had publicly stated that she would not play in Dallas this season. At that point they had little choice but to trade her, and on Wednesday executed a sign-and-trade with the Mercury. 

PlayerPrior teamNew teamPositionStatus

Tina Charles

New York Liberty

F/C

Unsigned

Skylar Diggins-Smith

Dallas Wings

Phoenix Mercury

G

Traded

Brittney Griner

Phoenix Mercury

Phoenix Mercury

C

Re-signed

Unrestricted free agents

As already noted, unrestricted free agents are able to talk to and sign with any team during the offseason. Some of these players may end up being "cored" by their teams, but until then they'll remain in this grouping. And now, without further ado, here's a look at every unrestricted free agent hitting the market this summer, grouped into tiers according to their talent level. 

Elite group

PlayerPrior teamNew teamPositionStatus

Elena Delle Donne

Washington Mystics

Washington Mystics

F

Re-signed

Emma Meesseman

Washington Mystics

Washington Mystics

F

Re-signed

Angel McCoughtry

Atlanta Dream

Las Vegas Aces

F

Signed

Breanna Stewart

Seattle Storm

Seattle Storm

F

Re-signed

There's no need to explain this one too much. These are the very best players hitting unrestricted free agency. Stewart is the 2018 MVP, though she is coming off a torn Achilles and didn't play in 2019, Delle Donne is the reigning MVP, while Meesseman is the reigning Finals MVP, and together latter duo is coming off an incredible season in which they brought the Washington Mystics the first title in franchise history. As expected, all three of these stars returned to their squads. 

As for McCoughtry, she was in a unique situation. She played her entire career in Atlanta, but missed all of last season rehabbing from a knee injury, and seemed to sour on the organization. And instead of making her a core player, the Dream decided to let her test free agency. Now, the Aces have taken advantage of that opportunity and added another star to their roster. 

All-Star-caliber group

PlayerPrior teamNew teamPositionStatus

DeWanna Bonner

Phoenix Mercury

Connecticut Sun

F

Traded

Allie Quigley

Chicago Sky

Chicago Sky

G

Re-signed

Kristi Toliver

Washington Mystics

Los Angeles Sparks

G

Signed

Courtney Vandersloot

Chicago Sky

Chicago Sky

G

Re-signed

The next group are not quite elite, MVP-level talent, but they're more than role players. So far, we've had two big surprises, as Toliver left the defending champion Mystics to return to the Sparks, while the Mercury executed a sign-and-trade to send Bonner to the Sun. Both Quigley and Vandersloot, meanwhile, returned to Chicago, which was expected. 

Veteran leaders

PlayerPrior teamNew teamPositionStatus

Seimone Augustus

Minnesota Lynx

Los Angeles Sparks

G/F

Signed

Sue Bird

Seattle Storm

Seattle Storm

G

Re-signed

These two players probably belong with the role players based on their actual production at this point of their career, but given their resumes, it felt only right to give them special attention. Augustus and Bird are two of the greatest of their generation, and have each won multiple WNBA titles and multiple Olympic gold medals together for Team USA. They're aging out of big roles, but are still important figures in the locker room. In one of the most shocking moves in a while, Augustus left the Lynx to sign with the Sparks.

Key role players

PlayerPrior teamNew teamPositionStatus

Essence Carson

Phoenix Mercury

G/F

Unsigned

Stefanie Dolson

Chicago Sky

Chicago Sky

F/C

Re-signed

Glory Johnson

Dallas Wings

Atlanta Dream

F/C

Signed

Sancho Lyttle

Phoenix Mercury

None

F/C

Retired

Leilani Mitchell

Phoenix Mercury

Washington Mystics

G

Signed

Shekinna Stricklen

Connecticut Sun

Atlanta Dream

G/F

Signed

Now this is where things start to get interesting. It's the nature of the WNBA that any truly great player will return to their team more times than not. But whether it's for financial reasons, or simply team needs, we start to see much more movement once we get into this tier of player. 

So far, we've seen Stefanie Dolson return to the Sky, but otherwise there's been movement all over the place. Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen both signed with the Dream, helping them re-tool after the departure of Angel McCoughtry, Sancho Lyttle retired and Leilani Mitchell signed with the Mystics to help them fill the void left by Kristi Toliver's departure 

Bench depth

PlayerPrior teamNew teamPositionStatus

Kayla Alexander

Chicago Sky

F/C

Unsigned

Alex Bentley

Atlanta Dream

G

Unsigned

Layshia Clarendon

Connecticut Sun

New York Liberty

G

Signed

Sydney Colson

Las Vegas Aces

Chicago Sky

G

Signed

Bria Hartley

New York Liberty

Phoenix Mercury

G

Signed

Epiphanny Prince

Las Vegas Aces

Seattle Storm

G

Signed

Danielle Robinson

Minnesota Lynx

Las Vegas Aces

G

Signed

Sugar Rodgers

Las Vegas Aces

Las Vegas Aces

G

Re-signed

Tierra Ruffin-Pratt

Los Angeles Sparks

Los Angeles Sparks

G/F

Re-signed

Carolyn Swords

Las Vegas Aces

None

C

Retired

Tamera Young

Las Vegas Aces

G/F

Unsigned

Shavonte Zellous

Seattle Storm

G

Unsigned

As we move down the tiers and get to players who fill out the end of the rotation, things get even more murky. These are all very solid players, and many of them will remain in the league, but they aren't difference-makers. And when teams have to start making difficult decisions regarding their cap sheets, these are the type of players that can often get squeezed out.  

Fighting for a roster spot

PlayerPrior teamNew teamPositionSatus

Blake Dietrick

Seattle Storm

Atlanta Dream

G

Signed

Megan Gustafson

Dallas Wings

Dallas Wings

F/C

Re-signed

Brooke McCarty-Williams

Dallas Wings

G

Unsigned

Kim Mestdagh

Washington Mystics

G

Unsigned

Courtney Paris

Seattle Storm

C

Unsigned

Karlie Samuelson

Dallas Wings

Dallas Wings

G/F

Re-signed

Tanisha Wright

New York Liberty

None

G

Retired

This last group is in a potentially difficult position. All of them had roster spots last season, but are certainly not guaranteed one this time around. The roster churn at the end of the bench is a brutal process in the WNBA because of the limited amount of spots. There are only 12 teams, and dozens of new players enter the league every season, meaning it's tough to stick around if you aren't at least a solid contributor. And even then you might be out of luck depending on team need.  

Restricted free agents

There are a number of star restricted free agents, including Chelsea Gray, Liz Cambage, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Williams, but it's very rare for those players to move teams in free agency. In fact, in the past three offseasons, Damiris Dantas is the only restricted free agent to sign with another team. (Some have re-signed with their prior team and then been traded, but you can't predict those moves.)

It's possible that changes this season just because of the sheer number of players that are hitting the market, and the changes to the salary cap with the new collective bargaining agreement. While the cap jumped, so did salaries, and that may result in some teams being unable to retain their restricted free agents. Still, most of the big names in this group should return to their prior teams. 

PlayerPrior teamNew teamPositionStatus

Jamierra Faulkner

Chicago Sky

G

Unsigned

Chelsea Gray

Los Angeles Sparks

G

Unsigned

Rachel Banham

Connecticut Sun

Minnesota Lynx

G

Signed

Liz Cambage

Las Vegas Aces

C

Unsigned

Kahleah Copper

Chicago Sky

Chicago Sky

G/F

Re-signed

Bria Holmes

Connecticut Sun

Connecticut Sun

F

Re-signed

Jonquel Jones

Connecticut Sun

Connecticut Sun

F/C

Re-signed

Betnijah Laney 

Indiana Fever

Indiana Fever

G

Re-signed

Imani McGee-Stafford

Dallas Wings

Dallas Wings

C

Re-signed

Tiffany Mitchell

Indiana Fever

Indiana Fever

G

Re-signed

Astou Ndour

Chicago Sky

Dallas Wings

F/C

Traded

Morgan Tuck

Connecticut Sun

Seattle Storm

F

Traded

Courtney Williams

Connecticut Sun

Atlanta Dream

G

Traded

Reserved players

This group features an eclectic mix of players who all have played three years or less, and their prior team has exclusive negotiating rights to re-sign them. Whether they were born there or simply started their career there, many of these players have roots overseas, which is why they weren't on normal rookie-scale contracts and sent to the restricted free agency route. Those who don't likely had trouble sticking on a roster early in their career and were waived at some point or another. 

In any case, most of these players will re-sign with no fuss. Some, however, may not get a deal at all. That is especially likely for veterans such as Anna Cruz, Sonja Petrovic and Marta Xargay, all of whom weren't in the WNBA last season. 

PlayerPrior teamNew teamPositionStatus

Lindsay Allen

Las Vegas Aces

G

Unsigned

Bridget Carleton

Minnesota Lynx

G/F

Unsigned

Alaina Coates

Atlanta Dream

C

Unsigned

Anna Cruz

Minnesota Lynx

G

Unsigned

Temi Fagbenle

Minnesota Lynx

F

Unsigned

Reshanda Gray

New York Liberty

F/C

Unsigned

Isabelle Harrison

Dallas Wings

Dallas Wings

F

Re-signed

Natisha Hiedeman

Connecticut Sun

Connecticut Sun

G

Re-signed

Marine Johannes

New York Liberty

New York Liberty

G

Re-signed

Sonja Petrovic

Phoenix Mercury

G

Unsigned

Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe

New York Liberty

F

Unsigned

Angel Robinson

Phoenix Mercury

F

Unsigned

Marianna Tolo

Los Angeles Sparks

C

Unsigned

Yvonne Turner

Phoenix Mercury

Phoenix Mercury

G

Re-signed

Marta Xargay

Phoenix Mercury

G

Unsigned

Cecilia Zandalasini

Minnesota Lynx

G/F

Unsigned

With that, the action is officially underway. 

CBS Sports will continue updating this page with every new move that happens. 

NBA Writer

Jack Maloney lives and writes in Milwaukee, where, like the Bucks, he is trying to own the future. Full Bio

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