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27 Jan 2010
by J.I. Halsell
By now, most of us are aware that 2010 is going to be an uncapped year. Because of this, a number of players who would have been unrestricted free agents this offseason are going to become restricted free agents, much to their chagrin. The uncapped year changes the requirement for unrestricted free agency from four accrued seasons to six. During my time with the Redskins, our offseason film review mainly consisted of reviewing and scouting unrestricted free agents; it was rare that we would make the effort to review restricted free agents. However, with the most talented players with expiring contracts in 2010 being restricted free agents, you must do your due diligence on restricted free agents in the event that a player is tendered at a lower level than expected.
By the end of February, we will know at what level teams have tendered restricted free agents. The tenders in 2010 are as follows:
Who are some of the more interesting names in restricted free agency this year who, had 2010 been a capped year, would have signed potentially market-setting or at least top-tier contracts in unrestricted free agency?
With all of the talent listed above, we could possibly see more movement in this uncapped year than is normal for the restricted free agency market. Historically, very few players have switched teams via restricted free agency. In recent memory, cornerback/return specialist Chris Carr moved from Oakland to Tennessee and tight end Ben Utecht moved from Indianapolis to Cincinnati. Given the value placed on draft picks in today’s NFL, those players who have moved via restricted free agency were tendered at the low level -- right of first refusal only. In the cases of Carr and Utecht, neither player was drafted when they came into the league. Their original teams could therefore only match their offer sheets and not receive any draft compensation for their departure. A study that I conducted while at the Redskins determined that since 2007, when the second-round tender was introduced, no player tendered at the second-round level or higher (first-round tender or first- and third-round tender) had ever received an offer sheet. (Wes Welker would have qualified as a second-round tender in 2007, but the Patriots worked out a trade with Miami rather than let the Dolphins match their offer sheet.) It will be interesting to see if this changes in the 2010 offseason, given the quality of the restricted free agent market.
One way to controversially encourage movement in the restricted free agent market would be a reintroduction of the "poison pill" concept. Rewind to the 2006 offseason: You may remember that guard Steve Hutchinson, who was given the Transition tag (essentially Right of First Refusal with no compensation for an unrestricted free agent), moved from Seattle to Minnesota by virtue of an offer sheet that contained a poison pill. The poison pill is a device that makes it virtually impossible for the original team to match the offer sheet. In Hutchinson's case, the poison pill language would have guaranteed the full contract value of $49 million if Hutchinson was not the highest-paid offensive lineman in Seattle, which was impossible due to Walter Jones' contract. Subsequently, the Seahawks signed restricted free agent wide receiver Nate Burleson to a poison pill contract containing language stating that, if Burleson played five games in the state of Minnesota, his full contract value of $49 million would be guaranteed. Clearly, the Minnesota Vikings could not match this provision since they obviously play their home games in Minnesota. However, unlike the Hutchinson transaction where Seattle received no compensation, the Burleson transaction netted the Vikings Seattle’s third-round pick due to the fact that Burleson, a former third-round pick, was tendered at a low level -- right of first refusal plus original round.
Let's say Denver tenders the talented yet troubled Brandon Marshall at the second-round tender. If you are a club looking for a legitimate No. 1 receiver and are willing to give up a second-round pick in exchange, why would you not ensure your acquisition by inserting a provision that makes it impossible for Denver to match? Some have said that the disappearance of the poison pill after 2006 confirms collusion on the parts of clubs. That said, in today’s unique free agency market with its unique set of rules, nothing would be too surprising, not even a club using the poison pill to acquire a high-end restricted free agent. I can’t wait for those tenders to come out and see who might be a viable target for such a mechanism.
Follow J.I. Halsell on Twitter: @SalaryCap101
44 comments, Last at 02 Feb 2010, 4:11pm by bitter hawk fan