Will there be more interest in restricted free agents?

February 02, 2012|By Matt Vensel

When the NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement was hammered out by NFL owners and the NFLPA last summer, a tweak was made to the rules regarding the compensation a team can receive if one of their restricted free agents signs an offer sheet with another team.

In the past, the maximum tender that could be placed on a restricted free agent was for first- and third-round draft picks, meaning that if, say, the Cleveland Browns signed Player X, a restricted free agent for the Ravens, to an offer sheet, the Ravens could either match the contract offer and keep the player or let him walk and be compensated with those two draft picks. But in the new CBA, the maximum compensation has changed.

Now the maximum is just a first-round draft pick, which is still a steep price to pay for a player in the NFL. But the change in compensation could lead to more interest in the top restricted free agents.

The Ravens have four restricted free agents: cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams, running back Matt Lawrence and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Webb, for example, should receive the maximum tender in terms of compensation, but with it taking just a first-round draft pick to try to get him -- not a first and a third -- there could be more suitors for Webb this offseason than there would have been in past years.

Of course, the Ravens will get the final say here. If they want to keep Player X, they can just match the offer.

On Wednesday, Ravens general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome was asked if he believes the changes to the RFA compensation rules will lead to increased interest in restricted free agents.

This league covets draft picks. And so, in order to go after a restricted guy, No. 1, you have to give a number now that's something that we won't match as a team,” Newsome said. “And then you've got to also give up a significant draft choice, because we would put some numbers on there that would make it prohibitive for people. … There's going to be some restricted free agents that we would like, but is it going to be worth giving up a significant amount of cash and cap and a draft pick? When you deal with that double-whammy, even though the rules have been relaxed, you just go, 'Nah, no, I wouldn't do it.' That's just my philosophy."

So there’s that. But we can’t be sure of how the NFL’s 31 other personnel gurus will handle restricted free agents. For example, it only takes one general manager with cap room and a desire for a talented, young cornerback such as Webb. That general manager would have to be willing to give Webb a big contract the Ravens can’t match and also be willing to give up a first-round draft pick for a proven commodity like Webb.

The Ravens want to keep Webb, who will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. Newsome said on Wednesday that the Ravens would “entertain” discussions with Webb and his representatives about a contract extension, adding that it would “be best for this organization” if they got a deal done this offseason.

 “The sooner you strike, the better deal you can get for yourself,” Newsome said.

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