The Ravens have 18 players who are presently slated to become Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) on March 5th.
RFAs are players whose contracts have expired and who have more than 3 years, but less than 6 years of accrued service time. In order to retain rights over those players, the Ravens will have to offer those players RFA Tenders. Once done, another team can sign the RFA to an RFA Offer Sheet, but the Ravens then have 7 days to match that Offer Sheet and retain the player under the terms of that Offer Sheet. On the other hand, if the Ravens decide not to match the Offer Sheet, then they would receive compensation based on which level of RFA Tender was made to the player.
There are 4 levels of RFA Tenders:
High Tender: Allows the team to receive the other team’s 1st and 3rd round picks – $3.043M for players with 3 accrued seasons; $3.168M for players with 4 or more accrued seasons
1st Round Tender: allows the team to receive the other team’s 1st round – $2.396M and $2.521M
2nd Round Tender– Allows the team to the other team’s 2nd round pick – $1.684M and $1.759M
Low Tender: allows the team to receive a draft pick equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted (as noted above after each player’s name) – 1.101M and $1.176M
In addition, if the above RFA tender amount is not equal to 110% of what the player made in the prior year, the player’s RFA Tender must include a salary equal to 110% of the prior year’s salary.
In the past, the Ravens have usually tendered all of their RFAs, but on occasion, the team has offered some of their players a veteran minimum contract in lieu of the RFA Tender. The veteran minimum salary for those players would be $630K and $545K depending on time of service. It is likely that the team will attempt to do so with several of their RFAs. If the player refuses the team’s offer of a veteran minimum contract, the team would likely non-tender the player, who will then become a free agent.
There is one other variable involved – the “Upgraded Tender” rule. This provision essentially protects 1st and 2nd round picks from receiving the lowest Tender – and thus a lesser salary – while still being tendered at the draft round in which they were drafted (because that is the round in which the player was originally drafted). This provision has never come into play in the past because 1st and 2nd picks usually get 5- and 4-year contracts, respectively, so under the Capped Year rules, they were never RFAs and went straight to unrestricted free agency (because they had 3 years of service time). However, under the Uncapped Year rules that will now likely be in place, those players are now RFAs because they do not have enough service time in the league to qualify as UFAs.
The "Upgraded Tender" rule dictates that if any player receives a RFA Tender that is higher than the round in which he was drafted, then any other RFAs, if drafted in the 1st or 2nd round, must receive the 1st or 2nd round Tender, otherwise the compensation if another team signs them will be reduced by a round.
For example let’s assume that Jared Gaither gets an Upgraded Tender but the Ravens only tender Mark Clayton (a 2005 1st round pick) with the Low Tender (which still requires 1st round compensation since that is the round in which he was drafted), then under the "Upgrade Tender" rule, the Ravens would only receive a 2nd round pick as compensation for Clayton. If a former 2nd round pick is given the Low Tender, then the compensation drops to a 3rd round pick.
So, the best guesses for the RFA Tenders are:
OT Jared Gaither (5th round pick): It is likely that the Ravens will tender Gaither with either the High Tender (compensation of 1st and 3rd round picks) or the 1st Round Tender. Given some of the rumors of some dissatisfaction over Gaither’s work habits and dedication, the RFA Tender given by the team may provide a clue to the Ravens’ future intentions with Gaither. If Gaither gets the High Tender, it is likely that no team would try and sign him to an Offer Sheet because of the high cost of compensation. On the other hand, if the team only offers the 1st Round Tender, then it could signal that the team would be willing to let him walk and take the 1st round draft pick.
Whichever Tender Gaither receives, it would trigger the Upgraded Tender rules.
P Sam Koch (6th): Another upgraded Tender, Koch received the 2nd Round Tender last year. It is likely that Koch will again receive the 2nd Round Tender. As a 4-year veteran, he will get a base salary of $1.759M.
FB Le’Ron McClain (4th): McClain will likely get either the 1st or 2nd Round Tender. There is only a $700K difference between the two, but – given the team’s past history with RFA Tenders – the guess here is that McClain gets the 2nd Round Tender.
WR Mark Clayton (1st): Clayton’s 2009 salary was $2.09M, so his RFA Tender must be at least $2.299M (110%). The 1st Round RFA tender for Clayton would cost only $222K more than already requires, so the team is likely to just give him the 1st round Tender.
CB Fabian Washington (1st): Washington’s 2009 salary was $1.715M, so his RFA Tender must be at least $1.887M ($110%). Given that he is coming off of a knee injury, the Ravens likely won’t have to tender him very highly to retain his rights. As such, they would likely give him just the 2nd Round Tender with a base salary of $1.887M. Thus, under the RFA Tender and the Upgraded Tender rule, the Ravens would only receive a 2nd round pick as compensation if he signs with another team and the Ravens decline to match.
QB Troy Smith (5th): Already this offseason, Smith’s agent has been doing his best to make himself a nuisance in an effort to get the Ravens to trade Smith. The Ravens would probably love to accommodate him if they can get the right offer for Smith. Until then, the Ravens are likely to tender Smith with the 2nd round Tender. They can always trade him for less is they are so inclined, but giving him the Low Tender, with just 5th round compensation, might not allow them to maximize Smith’s trade value.
S Dawan Landry (5th): As a starter, Landry will likely get the 2nd Round Tender. Giving Landry the Low Tender, with only 5th round compensation, might leave the door open to another team signing him to an Offer Sheet.
OG Marshall Yanda (3rd): Yanda could receive the Low or 2nd Round Tender. It’s possible that another team might be willing to give up a 3rd round pick for him, but a 2nd might be too pricey, so the team may just decide that it’s worth the additional $550K to better protect themselves.
OT Adam Terry (2nd), OG Chris Chester (2nd), QB John Beck (2nd), WR Demetrius Williams (4th), LB Antwan Barnes (4th), OT Tony Moll (5th) and LB Prescott Burgess (6th) will all likely get the Low Tender . In each case, the Ravens would likely be willing to let the player walk in return for the draft pick.
Under the Upgraded Tender Rule, giving the Low Tender to Terry, Chester and Beck would mean that they Ravens would only receive 3rd round compensation if they sign an Offer Sheet with another team and the Ravens decline to match.
PK Billy Cundiff (Undrafted – no compensation): Even though there would be no compensation, the Ravens will likely only tender Cundiff with the Low Tender offer. It’s highly unlikely that any team would be interested in signing him to an Offer Sheet.
TE Edgar Jones (Undrafted – no compensation) is a candidate to be offered a veteran minimum contract in lieu of a RFA Tender. Jones does not seem to be a candidate for even the Low Tender of $1.101M, so a minimum salary offer would seem to make sense.
Also, given the team’s apparent dissatisfaction with Demetrius Williams, it’s possible that he too could be non-tendered.
None of the RFA Tenders are guaranteed, so the player can always be released later and the team will not owe him the Tender amount, however, teams have to be mindful that if the player gets hurt and has to go on IR, then the team is on the hook for the salary. So if the team thinks the player has no chance of making the team, then they aren’t likely to give him an RFA Tender. This may be especially so with players who have a history of getting injured.
Of course, the Ravens are always good for a curveball or two when it comes to RFAs (see Chester Taylor receiving the Low Tender – with only 6th round compensation in 2005), so it will be interesting to see exactly which Tenders are applied.