Friday, April 20, 2012
It was a nice run for restricted free agency
By Kevin Seifert
For the past five weeks or so, many of you submitted questions about potential matches between NFC North teams and a number of restricted free agents (RFA), from Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Mike Wallace to Baltimore Ravens cornerback Ladarius Webb. You've also wondered if someone would make a run at one of our RFAs, be it Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy, Lions defensive tackle Sammie Hill, or even Chicago Bears running back Kahlil Bell.
The answer in each case was no, no, no, no, no and a big fat no.
As ESPN analyst Andrew Brandt pointed out this week, restricted free agency is a dying classification that appears to have run its course. The NFL's new collective bargaining agreement requires rookies to receive four-year contracts, which eventually will nullify a category that requires an expired contract and three years of accrued experience.
A conspiracy theorist would question what the future of restricted free agency has to do with how it functions in 2012. Are teams in unspoken agreement -- i.e. colluding -- to leave each other's RFAs alone, thus eliminating an entire class of players from movement? I guess everyone can draw their own conclusions on that, but here is what Brandt -- the Green Bay Packers' longtime contract negotiator -- wrote about it:
This is hard to pinpoint, though as a front office executive I was hesitant to present RFA offer sheets, thinking I was negotiating the contract for the incumbent team, as it usually matches. However, as noted above, the Wallace situation finds the Steelers susceptible.
Another factor is an increased emphasis on building through the draft. With a reduced financial obligation compared to the past, especially high in the draft, these picks are more valuable than ever. Combine that with the high financial price of prying away an RFA, and teams are shying away.
Beyond these reasons, however, an overriding concern for players is that teams are spending less on players than in recent years, and RFA inactivity is a symptom of a larger malady.
Friday is the final day for RFAs to sign an offer sheet with another team. Goodbye, restricted free agency. We'll miss you.