New World Of Restricted Free Agency

The new league year will begin at 11 p.m. Central Time on Thursday.

With it comes a new landscape of no salary cap for the first time in the NFL since 1993.

What will happen around the league in these circumstances will be interesting to watch in the coming weeks. That’s especially true when it comes to restricted free agents, one of the great oxymorons in professional sports. Coupling free with restricted does not make much language sense, and as it’s played out over the years, it hasn’t made much sense for the players.

Until this year, a restricted free agent was a player who had three years of experience in the league. With the owners opting out of the agreement with the players and bringing into play the uncapped season in 2010, changes came to the restricted class. Now a restricted free agent is a player with three to five years of experience in the league.

That means there are 212 players with four and five years of experience who are about to become restricted free agents (RFA) rather than unrestricted (UFA). And there are 212 players like San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman who are not very happy about the change.

“Business is business, but some things just aren’t right,” Merriman tweeted after the Chargers put a tender offer on him that would require a team interested in signing him to give up first and third round draft choices in compensation to San Diego.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about “tender offers” and with more players in the RFA class, there will be growing talk of the tenders. Here’s what to remember:

  • Teams must present any RFA with a tender offer based on years of service and compensation. If they do not, that player becomes an unrestricted free agent.
  • Players who receive tender offers have two choices. They can sign the offer, thus guaranteeing them that salary for the 2010 season. Or, they can attempt to negotiate with other teams.
  • A RFA can receive an offer sheet from any team. Once an offer is extended, the team that made the tender has a week to decide if they want to match the offer, or give up the player and receive specific compensation from the team offering the deal.

Last season, no player changed teams under the RFA system, and in the history of the RFA that began in ’93 features only a handful of players have changed teams.

There is the belief among some in the NFL and those that watch the league that the change to six years of experience for unrestricted free agency will create more activity at the RFA level. But there’s no doubt that most RFAs with four or five years of experience will not hit the big payday they might have found if they were UFAs.

Here’s the schedule of tender offers that teams can present to third, fourth and fifth-year players

RFA Compensation

3 Years

4 Years

5 Years

Right of First Refusal-No Compensation




Compensation-pick in original round




Compensation- 2nd-round choice




Compensation- 1st-round choice




Compensation – 1st & 3rd-round picks




One proviso: the only thing that can alter the dollars in the tender offer is the RFA’s salary from the 2009 season. If 110 percent of that ’09 base salary is more than the outlined tender, then that must become the team’s offer.

What type of tender offer a team makes to one of its RFAs is an indication of where that player fits in the overall landscape of the team. For instance, an RFA given a tender offer that requires compensation of first and third-round draft choices isn’t going anywhere. It’s generally the same circumstances for an RFA tender with first-round compensation.

Offers at the compensation level of a second-round pick or the player’s original draft round are indications of the team saying “we’d like to keep this player, but we will listen to offers.”

An offer that simply keeps the team’s right of first refusal is an indication of the team willing to lose the RFA.

The Chiefs have nine restricted free agents with years of experience: OL Andy Alleman (3), RB Jackie Battle (3), OL Ikechuku Ndukwe (3), C Rudy Niswanger (4), ILB Corey Mays (4), OT Ryan O’Callaghan (4), FS Jarrad Page (4), ILB Derrick Johnson (5) and QB Brodie Croyle (4).

For instance, if the Chiefs wanted to make sure Derrick Johnson went untouched, they would have to make a tender offer to him of $3,268,000. That would require a team that wanted to sign Johnson to give up first and third round choices.

11 Responses to “New World Of Restricted Free Agency”

  • March 4, 2010  - arrowhead1978 says:

    Have any of these players been offered a tender yet? By the way, what does a non-exclusive tag mean? Vince Wilfork had that baby slapped on him last week…

  • March 4, 2010  - arrowhead1978 says:

    ok i found it, any team to get wilfork would have to give him a contract that 120% of his last years salary or no less than an average of the top 5 players at his position from last year, whichever is greater and if the original team doesn’t match the offer and loses him then the original team would be compensated with two first round picks…

  • March 4, 2010  - Big Vess says:

    Mike Vrabel has sign to come back another year.Derrick Johnson has a tender offer for what round I do not know????

  • March 4, 2010  - Mad Chief says:

    Big Vess,

    DJ’s is a first.

  • March 4, 2010  - Big Vess says:

    Oh okay thanks Mad Chief you know I would not be unhappy if Niswanger went somewhere else.I know that Mawae is out there but at 39 that is too old for a center. I would go in the draft maybe Pouncey if he is in the second round. I forgot we still have Brown out of Missouri last year. He is still a few years away with the injury he sustained last year. Wade Smith is a backup somehow I think Niswanger will be back as a Chief. I really don’t care for him he and Mike Goff were the weak links to the line last year.I am hoping that someone grabs him.

  • March 4, 2010  - Danny W says:

    I just read Rolle has been released in Arizona, we need to pick him up. Lavernous Coles has been released from the Bengals we need him too. I think the biggest of all is Nose Tackle Jamal Williams has been released in San Diego I hope the phone lines are hot to pick him up. Not to mention I hear the Bears are looking for a round two for Greg Olson. He is a big time tight end ran a 4.40 great blocker and receiver. Dont get me wrong I would still like Berry but if we picked up these guys we could focus on Oline and D line in the draft let Williams teach Terrance Cody with our 2b pick how its done. Come on Pioli get to calling some people for those brand new top of the line coaches you picked up for us, lets get the ball rolling.

  • March 4, 2010  - Danny W says:

    More rumors I just read we are interested in Nate Burleson who is set to be released from the Seahawks. Chester Taylor out of Minnesota this is from the National Football Post and Steve Wyche says Daunta Robinson is probably headed for Atlanta.
    I think we still need to sign Chambers even though he is 31 and Burleson is 28. I would like to see if we could get Jordan Shipley in round 3, too. You guys excited yet I am busting.

  • March 4, 2010  - Roscoe says:

    Is Lavernous Coles a deep threat? If he is go get him!!!

  • March 4, 2010  - Enrique says:

    I’ll go with Chester Taylor, Danny W. The team needs somebody that could provide a blocking force while spelling relief for Jammal Charles every now and then. Kinda like Robert Holcombe did for Marshall Faulk in those “Greatest Show on Turf” teams.

  • March 4, 2010  - Chiefs Boss says:

    We need to go get rolle from free agency need to sign chambers and johnson then we need to go williams from chargers to help our dline but we also cud use peppers if we cud steal him from the bears he wud compliment hali on the opposite side if we can draft berry with 5th pick if he still thur but if not trade down and go get a extra first rounder and draft several needs .

  • March 5, 2010  - Chiefs Boss says:

    Another possibilty for the chiefs is to trade for boldin i know him and haley have had their differences but haley has said he would want boldin in kc last year when we first tried to get him that wud help bowe out

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