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Changes in free agency will affect Raiders

The talk of the coming offseason is not going to be whether or not Brett Favre is going to retire, but the ramifications of the “uncapped year” on free agency. On the surface, it would seem like the NFL becoming uncapped would open the flood-gates for it to become like Major League Baseball. However, there are many new restrictions in place that make the uncapped year a bad deal for both sides

Final 8 Plan

The final 8 plan does not directly affect the Raiders, but it will have a ripple effect on the rest of the league. Under what is called the final eight plan, the eight teams that played in the divisional round (Cardinals, Chargers, Colts, Cowboys, Jets, Ravens, Saints, and Vikings) are limited to either signing their own free agents or signing an equivalent free agent from another team as a replacement.

What this means is that the fears of Jerry Jones driving the market are unfounded. The Cowboys, along with the other seven teams can only replace what they lose. They can raise the bar on their own free agents, as Jim Irsay has said he is going to do with Peyton Manning, but they can’t assemble an All Pro team of mercenary free agents from other teams.

Unrestricted free agency

A key change is that the amount of accrued time necessary to become an UNRESTRICTED free agent has risen from four seasons to six seasons. This means that many players who were scheduled to become first time unrestricted free agents will only be able to become RESTRICTED free agents. This is a very critical difference in designation.

Unrestricted free agent- This is what comes to mind when most people hear and use the word free agent. A player who is an unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any other team once the 2010 league year begins on 5 March. The team that signs an unrestricted free agent is under no obligation to give any compensation to that player’s former team. The lack of compensation makes the unrestricted free agents much more attractive targets for teams.
Restricted free agent- A restricted free agent is a player whose contract has expired, but they have not acquired the number of seasons of service to become unrestricted free agents. In the past, this designation has mostly applied to marginal players and special teamers. With the number of seasons required to become an unrestricted free agent raised, there are going to be big names that fall into this category.

The process for a restricted free agent is much more complex than the unrestricted free agent. Prior to start of the new league year, the team offers a one year “tender” to the player. This “tender” is essentially a one year contract if the player does not sign with another team. The amount of the tender sets the level of compensation a new team is required to give up to sign the player. The lowest tender nets a compensatory pick equivalent to the player’s original draft position, the second lowest is for a second round pick. A third level of a tender would net a first round pick, and the highest level of a tender would net a first and third. The required tender amounts for each level are set by the League.

A team who has a restricted free agent has the right to match any offer made to the player. This way a team can allow another team to set the market for a player. For example, Kirk Morrison is scheduled to be a restricted free agent. If the Raiders tender him a second round offer, he can shop himself to other teams. If he doesn’t sign elsewhere, he would return to the Raiders at the tender price. If he signs an offer sheet with another team, the Raiders would have one week to match the offer sheet from the other team and keep Morrison, or they can allow Morrison to go to the other team and receive a second round draft pick as compensation from the other team.

The other option is that a team can consummate a trade using a player who is a restricted free agent. In the above scenario with Morrison where another team signs him they can offer an alternative compensation instead of the required second and if both teams agree, the deal is done. This means that the theoretical team that signs Morrison could offer a 3rd and 5th instead of the second, and if Al Davis agrees, it would be a done deal.

Franchise tags

During the salary cap era, teams have had a choice they could use either a franchise tag or a transition tag. In the uncapped year, the team has the option to use both the franchise and transition tags. This gives the teams the ability to control the destiny of an additional veteran.
The franchise tag has two forms, the standard franchise tag and the exclusive rights franchise tag. With the standard franchise tag, the player receiving the tag gets a one year tender worth the average of the top five at their position for the previous year, or a 20% raise over their previous salary, whichever is more. A player who is tagged is free to sign with another team, with the team that tagged him receiving two first round picks from the other team as compensation.

The exclusive rights free agent gives the player the average of the top five salaries at their position for the current year or a 20% raise, whichever is more. The exclusive rights franchise player is not allowed to negotiate with other teams. This was the tag the Raiders used on Nnamdi Asomugha for the 2008 season.

The transition tag

In the uncapped year, the teams get an additional transition tag they can use. That gives them either a franchise tag and a transition tag or two transition tags. When a team uses the transition tag the player gets a tender offer equal to the average of the top ten players at their position. A player with the transition tag is free to negotiate with other teams. The previous team would have a right to match any offer from a new team. If the old team declines to match the offer, there is no compensation that is required for singing a player.