BASN’s NFL Free Agency Guide

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: February 29, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — Remember “Nate Clements”, all you fans out there with dreams of signing a player and moving onto the Super Bowl. Clements last year’s “big” free agent signed the deal of a lifetime (eight years, $80 M with $22 M guaranteed) going from financially poor Buffalo Bills to the “cash heavy” rebuilding San Francisco 49ers.

The moves of bringing in Clements and fellow free agency pickups safety Michael Lewis and receiver Ashley Lelie were supposed to move the Niners into NFC West title contention. Well, now we know that the Niners limped home with a 5-11 record posting the NFL’s fourth worst Net Point differential of negative 145 points with Clements posting okay numbers (94 TKLs, 4 INTs, 1 Sack), but far the investment return expected.

I’m sure GM’s around the NFL took note during the 2007 season of the Niners fortunes. The Niners expected to win after shopping at Neiman Marcus in the offseason for players. But not so fast…. as we saw the New York Giants fueled by a good draft (Aaron Ross, Kevin Boss, Zak DeOssie, Jay Alford, and others) melded with key veterans hoisting the Super Bowl XLII Lombardi trophy. The Giants proved that playing as a “team” is omnipotent in the NFL rather than trying to buy a championship.

The G-Men cemented the same successful formula that the Colts, Patriots, and Steelers have subscribed to for years by looking to the draft first to build their team — 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 with free agents and usually fall apart”.

Timeframe: Began at 12:01 a.m. ET on Friday and runs to April 20 at 4 pm ET for unrestricted free agents

Salary Cap Information: The salary cap this year has been set for $116 million per team, which is seven million higher than last year’s figure of $109 Million. Remember TV and the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) have dictated the large pot of money that is out there. Most of the teams are in good shape going into the free agency signing period due to good cap management.

Solid teams usually make good cap decisions (Cutting of high priced veterans, extending young ascending players, and signing value veterans at the league minimum: $750,000). Teams with plenty of cap room (signing dollars) include: Jaguars ($46.3 million), Titans ($42.7 Million), Bills ($39.6 Million), Vikings ($35.4 Million), and Saints ($35.2 Million).

While others like the Redskins ($22 Million over the cap), Colts ($2.3 Million under), Panthers ($5.7 Million under), Rams ($7 Million under) and Ravens ($7.4 Million under) will need to do some slashing and contract restructuring before trying to sign their upcoming draft picks and desired free agents. For the Birds fans the Eagles have $31.3 Million.

Number of Free Agents: The National Football League announced that over 400 players are free agents of some kind and they can now negotiate with all 32 teams. That number includes the 12 free agents that were designated as “franchise” or “transition” players.

Key Terms:

Restricted Free Agent – A player that has accrued three 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 20. 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 20. These are guys that usually have trade value and their team will only let them go at their price (ex. The Eagles trading restricted free agent quarterback A.J, Feeley to the Miami Dolphins for a 2nd Round pick in 2005)

Some of the bigger name restricted free agents:

Cleveland QB Derek Anderson; Dallas RB Marion Barber III; Atlanta OLB Michael Boley; Tennessee K Rob Bironas; Tennessee TE Bo Scaife; Kansas City P Dustin Colquitt; St. Louis S Oshiomogho Atogwe; Tampa Bay DT Jovan Haye; Arizona T Elton Brown; Baltimore G Jason Brown; Arizona CB Eric Green; New England DT Mike Wright; Houston S C.C. Brown; Indianapolis S Matt Giordano; Pittsburgh G Chris Kemoeatu

Unrestricted Free Agent – A player with four or more accrued seasons whose contract has expired. He is free to sign with any team, with no compensation owed to his old team, through July 22. These are the guys that should be thanking Reggie White, a key marquee player who took advantage of free agency and was a huge signee in 1993 signing with the Green Bay Packers. Over 300 players have this designation.

Some Bigger Name Unrestricted Free Agents:

New England CB Asante Samuel; Chicago OLB Lance Briggs; New England WR Randy Moss (However, book it that the Pats and Brady get him back); Pittsburgh OG Alan Faneca; San Diego RB Michael Turner; Chicago WR Bernard Berrian; Seattle WR D.J. Hackett; Cincinnati DE Justin Smith; Arizona LB Calvin Pace; NY Giants FS Gibril Wilson; Oakland QB Daunte Culpepper; Cincinnati S Madieu Williams; Dallas RB Julius Jones.

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 an 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.

NOTE: Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Tackle Max Starks was the only player named 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 type of players are offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of April. The deadline for making these designations for 2007 was Feb. 22.

NOTE: Oakland CB Namandi Asomugha was the only player named as a “Non-exclusive” Franchise Players this year.

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 2008 was Feb. 21. Here are the anticipated salaries for franchised players Quarterbacks: $10.73 Million, Cornerbacks: $9.47 Million, Defensive Ends: $8.88 Million, Linebackers: $8.07 Million, Wide Receivers: $7.85 Million, Offensive Lineman: $7.46 Million, Defensive Tackles: $6.36 Million, Running Backs: $6.54 Million, Tight Ends: $4.53 Million, Safeties: $4.34 Million, and Kickers/Punters: $2.51 Million

2008 “Exclusive” Franchise Designated Players

Kansas City DE Jared Allen; Seattle CB Marcus Trufant; Baltimore OLB/DE Terrell Suggs; Tennessee DT Albert Haynesworth; Dallas S Ken Hamlin; Carolina OT Jordan Gross; Arizona OLB Karlos Dansby; Philadelphia TE L.J. Smith; Cincinnati OT Stacy Andrews; Green Bay DT Corey Williams.

Cap Casualty – A veteran player that has been released from his contract usually as “cap relief” for his former team. These players are usually let go before their contract bonuses or incentives kick usually around March or June before the next season (ex. DT Dana Stubblefield cut by the Washington Redskins in June of 2001) to free up cap space. The veteran player is free to sign with any team, with no compensation owed to his old team and doesn’t have to wait until the free agency signing period begins.

Some Bigger Name 2008 Cap Casualty Players

Atlanta QB Byron Leftwich; Atlanta TE Alge Crumpler; Carolina OG Mike Wahle; Miami QB Trent Green; Minnesota S Dwight Smith; Panthers LB Dan Morgan.

NOTE: contributed to this article.