The 2010 NFL Free Agency Period Arrives

The 2010 NFL Free Agency period arrived at 12 AM on March 5th and one of th biggest names available is Carolina Panthers DE Julius Peppers

Remember “Albert Haynesworth”, all you fans out there with dreams of signing a free agent and moving instantly into Super Bowl contention.  Haynesworth was “the” biggest free agent during the 2009 free agency period.  The former  Pro Bowl defensive tackle signed a deal of a lifetime (7 year, $100 Million Contract w/ $41 Million guarantee with the Washington Redskins.  The move made him the highest paid defensive at the time to leave the frugal Tennessee Titans to sign with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s “deep pocketed” team.  The moves of bringing in Haynesworth and fellow free agency pickup corner DeAngelo Hall (six year, $55 million deal with $23 million guaranteed) were supposed to instantly put Washington in the thick of the 2009 NFC East race.  Well, now we know that the Redskins, despite a massive off-season spending spree, did not reach the postseason and  finished with a disappointing 6-10 record with head coach Jim Zorn being swiftly fired at the end of the season.  For all the dollars that Snyder paid Haynesworth (4 sacks) and Hall (4 INTs), he didn’t receive anywhere near the return expected on his large investment

I am sure during the 2009 season, NFL team general managers and owners paid particular attention to the Redskins’ fortunes to see the affect of extravagant free agency spending on a team.  The Redskins and the equally luxurious spending Denver Broncos expected to win after shopping at Neiman Marcus in the offseason for players.  But not so fast…. as both teams didn’t even make the playoffs and it was the New Orleans Saints  fueled by home grown talent cultivated through the draft (Reggie Bush, Jahri Evans, Marques Colston, Tracy Porter  and others) who were hoisting the Super Bowl XLIV Lombardi trophy.  The Saints proved that building a solid nucleus through the draft with a sprinkling of long term veteran free agents like quarterback Drew Brees is the greatest key to winning in the NFL rather than trying to buy a championship.  The Saints confirmed the same successful formula that the Colts, Steelers, and Giants have subscribed to for years by looking to the draft first to build their teams — did you notice all of these teams have recently won a Super Bowl.  Over the years I have always told disgruntled spend-happy fans, “Good teams fill weaknesses on their roster with solid veteran players and draft picks and bad ones try to make a splash by over spending for ‘Big Name’ free agents and usually fall apart due to non-cohesiveness”.

We will see in an uncapped year whether NFL owners will be more conscious when spending during the 2010 Free Agency period.

Timeframe: Begins at 12:01 a.m. EST on Friday, March 5th and runs to April 21st at 4 PM EST for restricted free agents (last chance for teams to match offers from other teams)

Salary Cap Information:  With no new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) extension or deal between the NFL and the NFLPA in place as of March 5, 2010 , the NFL will experience their first uncapped year ever in 2010 – the current CBA expires in March 2011.  The cap has been in place since 1994 and has helped regulate professional sports most level playfield where small market teams like the Green Bay Packers can compete with the New York Giants of the world. In addition to there being no salary cap, there will also be no salary minimum for the first time too — last year the cap was $123 million and the minimum $107.7 million. So even though everyone is worried that Redskins owner Daniel Snyder will be football’s version of George Steinbrenner, there is a chance some team could try an be like the “frugal” Pittsburgh Pirates. 

Remember TV revenue and profit sharing has dictated that most NFL teams should have similar money to sign or not sign free agents.  Even without the cap as a guideline, most teams are in good shape going into the free agency signing period due to good management decisions.   Solid teams usually made good cap decisions over the years (Cutting of high priced veterans, extending young ascending players, and signing value veterans at the league minimum: $750,000). 

Special Rules for an Uncapped Year:

A) More restricted free agents – This free agency period, players can only be unrestricted free agents if they have accrued six years of service in the NFL (instead of four years in 2010 and five years in 2011). At last count 212 players will be considered restricted free agents — instead of unrestricted — because there is no salary cap in 2010. A restricted free agent’s old team has a chance to offer the player a one-year contract at different levels of pay which determines what level of draft-choice compensation the old club would receive if they lost that particular player. The old team also has the right to match any offer another club makes to a restricted free agent.  During 2009 NFL Free Agency period, not a single restricted free agent changed teams. The tender levels for players with three accrued seasons are $1.101 million for the original round the player was drafted, $1.684 million for a second-round pick, $2.396 million for a first-round pick and $3.043 million for first- and third-round picks.  Tender levels for four-year players are $1.176m, $1.759m, $2.521m and $3.168m. Tender levels for five-year players are $1.226m, $1.809m, $2.571m and $3.218m.

B)  More tags to retain players were available — This year teams were allowed to use one franchise tag and two transition tags (average of Top 10 position salaries and first refusal for a player’s designating team) before the start of the Free Agency signing period (March 5th). There were six players designated as “franchise players” by the February 25th deadline, but there were no transition players named.  Last year a record 14 players were designated as a franchise player.

C) The Final Eight Plan — Article XXI of the current NFL collective bargaining agreement limits the free-agent activity of the last eight teams from the 2009 NFL playoffs.  These rules were put in place, so no NFL team could fatten up on free agents in an uncapped year.  So the four teams from the conference championship games – Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Indianapolis Colts and the N.Y. Jets – can’t sign any unrestricted free agents from other teams unless they lose one and they can’t pay a player they sign more than the one they lost receives from a new team.  The four teams that lost in the previous round – Dallas, Arizona, Baltimore and San Diego – also can’t sign unrestricted free agents unless they lose one. They also can only sign one free agent for $5.5 million or more in the first year of the contract, while other signings can’t be more than $3.7 million in the first year.

All of the rules were explained recently in an NFL media Q &A document.

Number of Free Agents: The National Football League announced that there are over 400 players who are free agents of some kind including the aforementioned 212 unrestricted free agents. That number also includes the 6 free agents that were designated as “franchise” players.

Possible 2011 lockout lurking – At the 2008 Annual NFL Spring Meeting, NFL owners while crying broke over salaries that now encompass 60% of yearly revenues according to them, exercised a clause (had until November 8, 2008 to do so) by a unanimous vote (32-0) to shorten the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA). The vote meant that the CBA that was originally signed in 1993 (Extended several times including the last time in 2006) would expire in 2011 instead of 2013. There have been murmurs of a possible lockout in 2011 – would be first work stoppage since the very ugly 1987 Strike season — if the owners and players cannot come together on a new CBA.  A few key items that will need to be discussed in any new CBA are player revenue sharing, a potential rookie salary cap, NFL retiree benefits, medical benefits,.  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said when making the announcement at the ‘08 meeting of opting out of the current CBA, “We don’t need further time to analyze whether this is working or not working. It’s not working”.   The Commish added, “It was the ownership’s view that it’s not a failure of the negotiations, it’s a failure of the deal”. It will be real interesting to see how the whole potential CBA mess is handled now that noted corporate attorney DeMaurice Smith is now the head of the NFLPA instead of the late Gene Upshaw.

Key Terms:

Restricted Free Agent – A player that has accrued six seasons of playing time and their contract has expired.  The player’s team must submit a “qualifying” offer (a salary level predetermined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players). The player can negotiate with any team through April 21st. If the restricted free agent accepts an offer sheet from a new team, his old team can match the offer and retain him because it has the “right of first refusal.” If the old team does not match the offer, it can possibly receive draft-choice compensation depending on the amount of its qualifying offer. If an offer sheet is not executed, the player’s rights revert to his old team after April 21st.

 Some of the bigger name restricted free agents:

DL Victor Adeyanju, RFA, St. Louis Rams 

DE Mark Anderson, RFA, Chicago Bears

S OJ Atogwe, RFA ,St. Louis Rams

WR Miles Austin, RFA, Dallas Cowboys 

WR Jason Avant, RFA, Philadelphia Eagles

DT David Ball, RFA, Tennessee Titans

OT Khalif Barnes, RFA, Oakland Raiders

OT Alex Barron, RFA, St. Louis Rams

Safety Antoine Bethea, RFA ,Indianapolis Colts

RB Mike Bell, RFA, New Orleans Saints

SS Atari Bigby, RFA, Green Bay Packers 

CB Will Blackmon, RFA ,Green Bay Packers

WR Steve Breaston, RFA, Arizona Cardinals

OT Jamaal Brown, RFA, New Orleans Saints

RB Ronnie Brown, RFA, Miami Dolphins

DT Tony Brown, RFA, Tennessee Titans

S Melvin Bullitt, RFA, Indianapolis Colts

OT Jermon Bushrod, RFA, New Orleans Saints

QB Jason Campbell, RFA, Washington Redskins

OG Chris Chester, RFA, Baltimore Ravens

WR Mark Clayton, RFA, Baltimore Ravens

C Ryan Cook, RFA, Minnesota Vikings

TE Owen Daniels, RFA, Houston Texans

OLB/DE Elvis Dumervil, RFA, Denver Broncos

WR Braylon Edwards, RFA, New York Jets

DE Ray Edwards, RFA, Minnesota Vikings

OG Jahri Evans, RFA, New Orleans Saints 

TE Anthony Fasano, RFA, Miami Dolphins

WR Malcom Floyd, RFA, San Diego Chargers

OT Jared Gaither, RFA, Baltimore Ravens

OT Mike Gandy, UFA, Arizona Cardinals

K Stephen Gostkowski, RFA, New England Patriots

RB Jerome Harrison, RFA, Cleveland Browns

OG Richie Incognito, RFA, Buffalo Bills

QB Tarvaris Jackson, RFA, Minnesota Vikings

LB D’Qwell Jackson, RFA ,Cleveland Browns

CB Marlin Jackson, RFA ,Indianapolis Colts

WR Vincent Jackson, RFA, San Diego Chargers

WR Michael Jenkins, UFA, Atlanta Falcons

LB Derrick Johnson, RFA ,Kansas City Chiefs

TE Jeff King, RFA, Carolina Panthers

P Sam Koch, RFA, Baltimore Ravens 

OG Deuce Lutui, RFA, Arizona Cardinals

OL Logan Mankins, RFA, New England Patriots

S Danieal Manning, RFA ,Chicago Bears

WR Brandon Marshall, RFA, Denver Broncos

CB Richard Marshall, RFA, Carolina Panthers

FB Le’Ron McClain, RFA, Baltimore Ravens

OT Marcus McNeill, RFA, San Diego Chargers

OLB Shawne Merriman, RFA, San Diego Chargers

WR Lance Moore, RFA, New Orleans Saints

QB Matt Moore, RFA, Carolina Panthers

WR Sinorice Moss, RFA, New York Giants

RB Jerious Norwood, RFA, Atlanta Falcons

QB Kyle Orton, RFA, Denver Broncos

OT Donald Penn, RFA, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

S Bernard Pollard, RFA, Houston Texans

** K Jeff Reed, RFA, Pittsburgh Steelers

DB Carlos Rodgers, RFA, Washington Redskins

LB Barrett Ruud, RFA, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

LB DeMeco Ryans, RFA, Houston Texans

TE Bo Scaife, RFA, Tennessee Titans

TE Tony Scheffler, RFA, Denver Broncos

S Ko Simpson, RFA ,Detroit Lions

OG Rob Sims, RFA, Seattle Seahawks

QB Brad Smith, RFA, New York Jets

QB Troy Smith, RFA, Baltimore Ravens

C Chris Spencer, RFA, Seattle Seahawks

RB Darren Sproles, RFA, San Diego Chargers

WR Maurice Stovall, RFA, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

DE Darryl Tapp, RFA, Seattle Seahawks

TE David Thomas, RFA, New Orleans Saints

RB Pierre Thomas, RFA, New Orleans Saints

WR Jerheme Urban, RFA, Arizona Cardinals

CB Fabian Washington, RFA, Baltimore Ravens

RB Leon Washington, RFA, New York Jets

DL Gabe Watson, RFA Arizona Cardinals 

FB Leonard Weaver, RFA, Philadelphia Eagles

RB LenDale White, RFA, Tennessee Titans

WR Demetrius Williams, RFA, Baltimore Ravens

CB Ashton Youboty, RFA, Buffalo Bills

Unrestricted Free Agent – A player with six or more accrued seasons whose contract has expired. He is free to sign with any team, with no compensation owed to their former team.  These are the guys that should be thanking Reggie White, a key marquee player who fought hard for free agency and eventually was able to sign a huge deal with the Green Bay Packers back in 1993. Over 300 players have this designation. 

Some Bigger Name Unrestricted Free Agents:

QB Kyle Boller, UFA, St. Louis Rams

QB Daunte Culpepper, UFA, Detroit Lions

QB Chad Pennington, UFA, Miami Dolphins

RB Kevin Faulk, UFA, New England Patriots

RB Larry Johnson, UFA, Cincinnati Bengals

RB Thomas Jones, UFA, New York Jets

RB Willie Parker, UFA, Pittsburgh Steelers

RB Chester Taylor, UFA, Minnesota Vikings

WR Antonio Bryant, UFA, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

WR Lee Evans, UFA, Buffalo Bills

WR Muhsin Muhammad, UFA, Carolina Panthers

WR Terrell Owens, UFA, Buffalo Bills

WR  Josh Reed, UFA, Buffalo Bills

WR Kevin Walter UFA, Houston Texans

TE  Alge Crumpler, UFA, Tennessee Titans

TE  Benjamin Watson, UFA, New England Patriots

**K Olindo Mare, UFA, Seattle Seahawks

P  Jeff Feagles, UFA, New York Giants

Craig Hentrich, UFA, Tennessee Titans

OG  Stephen Neal, UFA, New England Patriots

OG  Bobbie Williams, UFA, Cincinnati Bengals

C Kevin Mawae, UFA, Tennessee Titans

NT  Jason Ferguson, UFA, Miami Dolphins

DT  Tank Johnson, UFA, Cincinnati Bengals

DE   Derrick Burgess, UFA, New England Patriots

DE  Ryan Denney, UFA, Buffalo Bills

DE/OLB  Aaron Kampman, UFA, Green Bay Packers

DE  Leonard Little, UFA, St. Louis Rams

DE Adewale Ogunleye, UFA, Chicago Bears

DE  Julius Peppers, UFA, Carolina Panthers

DE  Will Smith, UFA, New Orleans Saints

DE  Jason Taylor, UFA, Miami Dolphins

DE  Kyle Vanden Bosch, UFA, Tennessee Titans

LB Gary Brackett, UFA, Indianapolis Colts

LB  Karlos Dansby, UFA, Arizona Cardinals

LB Larry Foote, UFA, Detroit Lions

LB Scott Fujita, UFA, New Orleans Saints

LB D.J. Williams, UFA, Denver Broncos

CB/S  Dre’ Bly, UFA ,San Francisco 49ers

CB Walt Harris, UFA ,San Francisco 49ers

CB Ellis Hobbs RFA, Philadelphia Eagles

CB Adam “Pacman” Jones, UFA, Dallas Cowboys

CB Terence Newman, UFA, Dallas Cowboys

CB Dunta Robinson, UFA, Houston Texans

CB Deshea Townsend, UFA, Pittsburgh Steelers

S Ryan Clark, UFA, Pittsburgh Steelers

S Sean Jones UFA, Philadelphia Eagles

S Darren Sharper, UFA, New Orleans Saints

Transition Player – A team can designate one transition player (or one franchise player) in any given year. The player’s team must offer a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of last season at the player’s position or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. A transition player designation gives the team a first-refusal right to match within seven days any offer sheet given to the player by another team after his contract expires. If the team matches, it retains the player. If it does not match, it receives no compensation.

  • No players were designated as a “Transition Player” this year.

Non-Exclusive Franchise Player – A team can designate one franchise player in any given year as a “Non-Exclusive Franchise” player. The salary level offered by the designating team determines whether the player is an Exclusive or Non-Exclusive franchise player. A “Non-Exclusive” franchise player is free to sign with other teams, but his team has the right to match the offer after 7 days. These types of free agents are offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of April.  A Non-Exclusive Franchised Player can solicit deals from other teams, but his current team has first-refusal rights to match within seven days any offer sheet. If the player does sign and his team matches, the old team retains the player. If old team does not match, the old team receives compensation in the form of draft picks (usually first rounders) from the new team depending on the level they were tendered at originally.  The deadline for making these designations for 2010 was Feb. 25th. Here are the anticipated salaries for players tagged with either a franchise or transition tag.  Quarterbacks: $16.405 million (franchise), $14.546 million (transition); Defensive Ends: $12.398m, $10.193m; Offensive Lineman: $10.731m, $9.142m; Linebackers: $9.680m, $8.373m; Cornerbacks: $9.566m, $8.056m; Wide Receivers: $9.521m, $8.651m; Running Backs: $8.156m, $7.151m; Defensive Tackles: $7.003m, $6.353m; Safeties: $6.455m, $6.011m; Tight Ends: $5.908m, $5.248m; and Kickers/Punters: $2.814m, $2.629m

2010 “Non-Exclusive” Franchise Designated Players

San Francisco 49ers NT Aubrayo Franklin

Seattle Seahawks kicker Olindo Mare

Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Jeff Reed

Green Bay Packers DT Ryan Pickett

New England Patriots NT Vince Wilfork

Exclusive Franchise Player – A team can designate one franchise player in any given year as an “Exclusive Franchise” player. The salary level offered by the designating team determines whether the player is an Exclusive or Non-Exclusive franchise player. An “exclusive” franchise player is not free to sign with another team.  These type of players are offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of April.  Some teams use the tag as a way to initiate talks for a long-term contract, but usually players and their agents that are designated as exclusive franchise players are extremely unhappy and can cause distractions.  Their angst is due to the loss of an “upfront” signing bonus (guaranteed $$$).  Though they will be paid at the highest level of their position, players typically want the big payday that comes with being a free agent.  In the past we have seen franchised players miss all non-mandatory off season training activities and report late or holdout of training camp (ex. Seattle Seahawks Offensive Tackle Walter Jones in 2004 & 2005). The deadline for making these designations for 2010 was Feb. 25th.

2010 “Exclusive” Franchise Designated Players

Oakland Raiders DE Richard Seymour

Veteran Released players – This type of released players used to be labeled a “cap casualty”, but with no cap that term can’t apply.  These players are usually let go before Free Agency or before their contract bonuses incentives kick-in usually around March.  Veteran “street” free agents are eligible to sign with any team as soon as they are released, thus bypassing free agency period dates.

Some Bigger Name 2010 Veteran Released Players

WR Laverneus Coles, UFA, Cincinnati Bengals

QB Jake Delhomme, UFA, Carolina Panthers

C Hank Fraley, UFA, Cleveland Browns

WR Torry Holt, UFA, Jacksonville Jaguars

RB Thomas Jones, UFA, New York Jets

OT Orlando Pace, UFA, Chicago Bears

ILB Antonio Pierce, UFA, NY Giants

OLB Joey Porter, UFA, Miami Dolphins

WR Antwaan Randle El, UFA, Washington Redskins

S Antrel Rolle, UFA, Arizona Cardinals

OT Tra Thomas, UFA, Jacksonville Jaguars

RB LaDainian Tomlinson, UFA, San Diego Chargers

RB Brian Westbrook, UFA, Philadelphia Eagles

NT Jamal Williams, UFA, San Diego Chargers

Notable players that signed new deals with their old team, thus avoiding free agency

Pittsburgh Steelers NT Casey Hampton

Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski

Kansas City Chiefs LB Mike Vrabel

Atlanta Falcons WR Brian Williams

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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