Clearly the uncapped season and the deluge of restricted free agents change the high stakes game of free agency. General Managers across the league better be on their toes. They better listen to their inner Lady Gaga and wear their best poker faces.
Without a cap teams will shed the contracts of underperforming players. But when will they pull the trigger on such moves? With no cap pressures they could wait until after the first wave of free agency and the draft. Some might even wait until training camp or later.
Consequently “street” free agents will surface in an unpredictable way and the patient GM just might be rewarded. Perhaps more so than ever before the re-shaping of NFL rosters is a work-in-progress that spans the entire offseason and right on through to the regular season.
The gamesmanship regarding restricted free agency is clearly a developing phenomenon. RFA tenders may signal a team’s genuine interest in a player or it might be used to lure would-be suitors.
The Ravens extended a first-round tender to Jared Gaither and that might be tempting to teams considering a tackle in the 2010 draft. If the Ravens were unconditionally committed to Gaither, wouldn’t they have extended the first and third round tender offer? The difference in real dollars for a player like Gaither is roughly $700,000. Maybe the Ravens want the pick for Gaither or maybe they simply want to see what the market is willing to pay Gaither.
Once Gaither and his agent see what the former Terp’s fair market value is, the Ravens then could draw up a reasonable long-term deal with the left tackle.
A few of the Ravens restricted free agent tender offers have left some scratching their head most notably those of Fabian Washington and Le’Ron McClain.
Washington was extended a second round tender. The club knows that no team would be willing to cough up a No. 2 pick for the oft-injured corner and if they did you just might see Ozzie Newsome doing an Ozzie Smith impersonation while back-flipping his way down Reisterstown Road. But with Lardarius Webb’s uncertain status to start the season, Washington represents a decent solution until the team travels the bridge to a healthy Webb.
As for Le’Ron McClain it could be argued that the Ravens could have gotten by with the second round tender and saved $700,000 but instead they rewarded the two-time Pro Bowler. With the unnecessary financial commitment extended by the team, McClain is a happier employee and it just might inspire him to be a more committed participant in the team’s voluntary offseason conditioning program. He’s hardly been a poster child for such activities in the past.
Most need to be reminded of one very important yet unfortunately often disregarded piece of information when it comes to these RFA tenders. Financially speaking, what teams do with the tender offers really doesn’t matter all that much. The money is not guaranteed and without a cap, there is no Rule of 51 that forces clubs to manage their top 51 salaries under the cap.
The Ravens are looking to create competition for jobs. It inspires commitment, dedication and excellence. The more competition the better. If during camp the additions to the team through free agency and/or the draft force some of the tendered RFA’s off the roster, there is no Monopoly money at stake (cap dollars) and there is no significant real money at risk for Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti.
Saying goodbye to a player such as Demetrius Williams (low tender) or Fabian Washington should they fail to compete effectively would cost the team absolutely nothing.
The Looming Lockout
Reports have surfaced that league owners may be reluctant to extend big contracts to players due to the very real possibility of a 2011 owner’s lockout. The thinking is, why sign a player to a lucrative deal when there could be a work stoppage?
If there is a work stoppage, a pay check stoppage will follow. Owners are not responsible for paying athletes even if they force the lockout.
However, the possibility of a lockout could influence player agents who will try to avoid split bonuses (something the Ravens employ frequently) at all costs. In the case of Terrell Suggs for example, he received $33.1 M in bonus money, $10.1 M paid in 2009 as a signing bonus and the balance to be paid as a roster bonus ($23M) in 2010.
If Suggs’ agent was negotiating the same deal today, the split roster bonus would be far less attractive due to the uncertainty of when it would actually be paid.
Clearly this new wrinkle will challenge the poker faces of agents and GM’s respectively.