As of today, NFL free agency is due to begin in 16 days.
Of course, there’s a huge caveat hanging over that—the CBA is set to expire on March 1. If a new deal isn’t reached before that date, the 2010 season would be an “uncapped” year.
If that happens (and by all indications from Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA President DeMaurice Smith, it will), players with less than six years of service time who are due to become free agents will only be restricted free agents. That means as long as an offer is tendered to the player, other teams will have to give up compensation to sign them.
For the Phiadelphia Eagles, that would affect six players: WR Jason Avant, OL Nick Cole, LB Chris Gocong, OL Max-Jean Gilles, LB Akeem Jordan and FB Leonard Weaver.
What does this mean? Basically, because there’s no cap (and thus no consequence for eating salary), and since tender offers are due to the league by March 4 (basically within a week of the free agency period), we’ll know in a hurry how valuable these guys are to the franchise pretty much within moments.
For 2010, the tender amounts are as follows according to league info (amounts are for players with three, four and five years accrued):
-Original draft pick compensation (what round player was selected in, or nothing for an RFA): $1,101,000 (3), $1,176,000 (4) or $1,226,000 (5)
-Second-round tender: $1,684,000, $1,759,000 or $1,859,000
-First-round tender: $2,396,000, $2,521,000, or $2,621,000
-First & third round tender: $3,043,000, $3,168,000 or $3,268,000
Basically, that means that whatever level tender the RFA is offered, the new team would have to give up the corresponding draft picks to sign the player.
For the Eagles’ affected players, it’s a positive in some cases and a negative in others.
In terms of Jordan, Gocong and Cole, it’s a positive for the Eagles.
While all three would most likely be brought back if they were unrestricted, they aren’t going to command a huge contract on the open market.
Cole and Jordan were both undrafted, so in order to get anything for them, the Eagles would have to sign them to at least the $1,684,000 tender.
Cole signed the lowest tender last year as an RFA and is worth a raise considering Jamaal Jackson is likely out for at least the first half of next season. That’s not to mention Cole being a valuable backup at three positions.
Likewise, Jordan is a valuable backup. Unless he can play the SAM, he’s likely the “fourth” linebacker with Stewart Bradley and Will Witherspoon both back on board to play MIKE and WILL. Jordan held his own at the WILL and was willing to learn the SAM late last year, so he’ll likely get the second-round tender as well.
As for Gocong, this is a make-or-break year for him. While he’s still the best SAM on the roster, he struggled a lot with injury last year. For a second-round tender, he may get a chance to see if he can have a future at LDE while still also backing up whoever makes the cut at SAM.
In the case of Avant and Weaver, the uncapped year is a negative for them but a positive for the Birds.
Both men are likely on the verge of long-term contracts. Weaver is the best fullback the Eagles have had since Jon Ritchie (and is possibly better than Ritchie), while Avant is hugely valuable as a third receiver.
Thing is, no one is sure how that worth translates over to the entire NFL. So what’s likely to happen is that in an attempt to hammer out a long-term deal, one or both of them will get the max or first-round tender; no team would likely give up a first-rounder for either one. So for $5 million, they’ll likely be back.
As for Gilles, well, he’s not Eagles material...plain and simple. He’s had four years to prove himself and hasn’t quite cut muster. But being a fourth-round pick, the Eagles can tender him low and see if anyone wants him.
At worst, they waste $1 million. At best, they get a fourth-rounder from whoever wants him, which means that they would have six picks in the top half of the draft (plus possibly a seventh depending on what they get from the Jets for the Lito Sheppard trade).
So all six will likely get tendered, as the money they can save on Avant and Weaver will cover what they might “lose” elsewhere.
For about $10 million, the Eagles can save themselves a bit of a headache at worst and rack up a handful of draft picks at best.