NFC West: restricted free agents

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals' commitment to 3-4 principles as part of a hybrid defense means they'll want to keep nose tackle Gabe Watson from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

Watson and tight end Leonard Pope are restricted free agents this offseason. The Cardinals can retain rights to both by making minimum qualifying offers before the Thursday deadline.

The Cardinals would like more consistency at tight end. I would expect them to offer Pope at the minimum level. That would almost certainly be enough to dissuade other teams from making an offer, for if the Cardinals declined to match, the signing team would send a third-round choice to Arizona.

Arizona will likely take a safer approach with Watson. A minimum offer would return only a fourth-round pick to Arizona if the Cardinals declined to match an offer. The Cardinals could gain insurance by making a $1.545 million offer. In that case, Arizona would receive a second-round choice for failing to match offers on Watson.

The knee problems Watson overcame last season might dissuade other teams from valuing him as a second-round choice. But if Watson makes a full recovery and helps the Cardinals, he could be worth the $1.545 million investment.

Cardinals RFA Candidates Pos. Drafted Round Projected Tender Level Compensation if Lost
Gabe Watson
DT 4 $1.545M 2009 2nd-round pick
Leonard Pope
TE 3 $1.010M 2009 3rd-round pick
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Seahawks have only one potential restricted free agent this offseason: linebacker Lance Laury. They have already informed him they do not plan to make a qualifying offer.

The decision means Laury will become an unrestricted free agent Friday.

Laury has been a special-teams player and backup linebacker. He occasionally made big hits on special teams, including one memorable block on then-Rams linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski, but he was not consistently effective and the team had no plans to develop him as a linebacker.

The Seahawks' decision also reflects escalating pay scales. The minimum qualifying offer jumped to $1.01 million for 2009. That's how much Seattle would have to offer Laury for the right to match any offers he might have received from other teams. And that's how much Laury would have earned from the Seahawks if they had made the offer and kept him on the roster.

Teams have until Thursday to make qualifying offers for restricted free agents.

Seahawks RFA Candidate Pos. Drafted Round Projected Tender Level Compensation if Lost
Lance Laury
LB None None None

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams have three potential restricted free agents this offseason. The team faces fairly straightforward choices with guard Richie Incognito and defensive lineman Victor Adeyanju, but offensive lineman Mark Setterstrom could present a more difficult call.

Incognito and Adeyanju were mid-round draft choices. The Rams can make the minimum RFA offer -- $1.01 million this year -- without exposing themselves to undue risk.

Pending potential roster changes, St. Louis expects Incognito to start at right guard. If another team wanted to offer a long-term deal, the Rams could match the offer. If they decided against matching, they would receive a draft choice in Incognito's drafted round, the third. Either choice could help the Rams over the long term.

Setterstrom's case is different. He was only a seventh-round choice. The Rams wouldn't mind having him around as depth, but they presumably aren't excited about paying him more than $1 million, either. The team has until Thursday to make a decision.

Rams RFA Candidate Pos. Drafted Round Projected Tender Level Compensation if Lost
Richie Incognito
OL 3 $1.01M 2009 3rd- round pick
Victor Adeyanju
DL 4 $1.01M 2009 4th-round pick
Mark Setterstrom
OL 7 --
--

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

With the free agency period starting on Friday, it's the right time to freshen up on what happens to players not quite ready for prime time: restricted free agents.

By definition, RFAs have three years of NFL experience. They become unrestricted free agents Friday only if their teams decline to offer one-year contracts at prescribed amounts. We will see that happen quite a bit this year as the minimum qualifying offer exceeds $1 million.

Tender Right to match Compensation if declined to match
$1.01M Yes Same round as when player originally drafted
$1.545M Yes 2009 second-round draft pick
$2.198M Yes 2009 first-round pick
$2.792M Yes 2009 first- and third-round picks

The four-tiered pay scale for restricted free agents carries 2009 salaries of $1.01 million, $1.545 million, $2.198 million and $2.792 million. The more teams offer by the Thursday deadline, the more they would receive in return if they decided against matching an offer from another team. 

The lowest offer would return a draft choice in the round the player was drafted. If the player was not drafted, the original team would receive nothing in return. Teams have until Thursday to make qualifying offers. I'll make projections for each team as the day continues.

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