Restricted free agents truly restricted

Welcome to the unhappy world of the NFL Restricted Free Agents (RFAs). In a year that has not gone well for the players side, we have now reached the date where teams can further their advantage by reducing tender offers made to unsigned RFAs from the amount of their tenders – some over $3 million -- to 110% of the player’s 2009 salary, often a much smaller amount.

In other words, for players engaging in mild forms of disobedience due to their discontent with a tender offer instead of a real contract, well guess what? That tender offer is going to look real good compared to 110% of last year’s salary.

In my nine years with the Packers, I never reduced a tender offer. This is a tactic that, until this time, has rarely if ever been used. That, however, was then. This is now, the year of no cap and no good news for the player side of the equation.

The summer of RFA discontent is upon us.

You think that offer was bad?

The Chargers have notified Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNell that – if their offers remain unsigned as of tomorrow, June 15 -- their one-year compensation for 2010 will drop from $3.268 and $3.168 million to $583,000 and $600,000. Similar notifications have reportedly come to Elvis Dumervil of the Broncos, Donald Penn of the Bucs, Logan Mankins of the Patriots and five Cleveland Browns. Teams are saying, in effect: if you want to keep sitting on that offer, see how you like these apples!

We now have a test of wills as to whether players will sign today or not.

A nonexistent RFA market

As discussed here in February, the real question of this uncapped 2010 was not the activity of the class of Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs). That market operated true to form, with the lucky handful of players – Julius Peppers, Karlos Dansby and a couple others -- receiving the crazy money associated with the first weekend of free agency as happens every year, cap or no cap.

The UFA group was especially diluted this year due to the yin-yang of the uncapped year, with six rather than four years required for UFA status. The losers of that service requirement – the four and five year players – were the talent. It was to be these players – the “limbo” group of free agents, as I called them – where the action would, or would not lie, possibly even with the “poison pills” offer sheets designed to insure that the acquiring team gets the player.

This group of 212 players denied rights as UFAs would be the focus of free agency in the new world of uncapped football. With talented players such as Shawn Merriman, Brandon Marshall, Miles Austin, Mankins, Kyle Orton, Jackson, Penn, Dumervil, McNeill and many others, there was sure to be a market for services of these players, right? Well, uh, no.

A class of one: Mike Bell

The list of players moving teams through the RFA market from this talented group of 212 players is the following: Mike Bell. Bell moved from the Saints (who are threatening to reduce a tender offer to starting running back Pierre Thomas) to the Eagles by virtue of an unmatched offer sheet of $1.7 million plus some incentives. With the RFA period for offer sheets over, the sum total of players moving was Mike Bell.

What happened?

Exactly what we expected. With teams protecting their assets with high tenders – second-round, first-round, and the super tender of first and third round – there was not much interest in teams parting with high picks in a deep and dense Draft.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at what happened to the players – and is still happening – in this unique year without a Cap and how it has affected, or not affected, the ongoing bargaining process that is plodding along in slow motion. The uncapped year has played out as we predicted: a chance for ownership to curb its spending, hide behind the rules and uncertainty, and shed costs in anticipation of a either a work stoppage or a new system in 2011.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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