The NFL's restricted free agent market is back to operating in the shadows this offseason after being lifted, briefly, into prominence two years ago when the Washington Redskins used it to obtain four players -- wide receiver Laveranues Coles, kick returner Chad Morton, safety Matt Bowen and defensive tackle Jermaine Haley -- in the same offseason.
But there has been some activity, and there could be more in the coming weeks now that maneuvering on the unrestricted free agent market has slowed to a virtual halt.
Denver Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan announced Tuesday at the league meetings in Maui that the club would not match the Seattle Seahawks' five-year, $15-million offer sheet to cornerback Kelly Herndon. Herndon goes to the Seahawks, without draft-pick compensation to the Broncos, and becomes the first player to change teams this offseason via restricted free agency.
Two other restricted free agents signed offer sheets with other clubs, but their teams retained them by matching the offers. The Broncos matched the New York Jets' five-year, $12.5 million offer sheet to tight end Jeb Putzier, and the Baltimore Ravens matched the Cleveland Browns' one-year, $3 million offer sheet to tailback Chester Taylor.
Players are eligible for restricted free agency if their contracts have expired and they have three seasons of NFL experience (they're eligible for unrestricted free agency after four seasons). If a restricted free agent's previous team has made him a qualifying offer for a one-year contract for next season at one of three predetermined salary levels, it has the right to retain him by matching any offer sheet that he might sign with another club, and the right to receive a draft choice as compensation from the player's new team if it allows him to leave.
This year, a $656,000 qualifying offer to a restricted free agent gave a team the right to match any offer to the player, and to receive a pick equal to the round in which the player originally was drafted if he departs. A $1.43 million qualifying offer gave a club the right to receive a first-round selection as compensation if the player is allowed to go to a new team, and a $1.9 million qualifying offer entitled a club to first- and third-round choices as prospective compensation. No restricted free agent league-wide was given the highest qualifying offer by his team this offseason.
That highest tender perhaps seemed warranted for one restricted free agent -- Philadelphia tailback Brian Westbrook. The Eagles took a bit of a risk, it seemed, by giving him only the $1.43 million tender. But it has turned out well for them, with the market flooded with tailbacks. Edgerrin James, Shaun Alexander and Travis Henry are on the trading block, and this year's draft class is loaded with coveted running backs. Since James or Alexander apparently could be had for less than a first-round pick, it doesn't seem likely at this point that any club would want to sign Westbrook to a mammoth contract and surrender a first-round choice to the Eagles as compensation for him.
But there are other players still available as restricted free agents who could interest teams before the market closes a week before the draft. Green Bay tailback Najeh Davenport, a highly effective backup to Ahman Green with the Packers, could be had for a fourth-round pick as compensation. A team looking for a reserve quarterback could get Green Bay's Craig Nall for a fifth-round choice, the Packers' J.T. O'Sullivan for a sixth-rounder or the Redskins' Tim Hasselbeck for no draft-pick compensation (since he entered the league as an undrafted free agent).
Three wide receivers with some promise -- Randy Hymes of Baltimore, Dane Looker of St. Louis and Marc Boerigter of Kansas City -- are available without draft-choice compensation. New England wideout David Givens would require a first-round selection as compensation, but that possibly could be worth it to a team with a low first-round pick. Guard Tupe Peko, a part-time starter last season on Indianapolis's highly effective offensive line, could be had for a seventh-round choice -- the same prospective compensation for Tennessee defensive end Carlos Hall, who had eight sacks for the Titans as a rookie in 2002. Minnesota safety Brian Russell has been a starter for two seasons and carries no draft-pick compensation.
Bruschi Could Sit Out Season
Agent Brad Blank, newly hired to represent Tedy Bruschi, told the Boston Globe that the Patriots linebacker is contemplating sitting out next season.
Bruschi was hospitalized last month after suffering what the team described as a mild stroke, and reportedly was to undergo surgery for the repair of a hole in his heart that might have caused the stroke.
Bruschi helped the Patriots to their third Super Bowl title in four years last season and reached his first career Pro Bowl. It is not clear yet whether he would attempt to return to play in the 2006 season if he sits out next season.
Seahawks' Reshuffling Completed
The revamping of Seattle's front office has been completed, now that the Seahawks have hired Mike Reinfeldt as vice president of football administration. The former Seahawks executive returned to the team as a consultant last month, and played a central role in signing quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and left tackle Walter Jones to contract extensions before they hit the unrestricted free agent market. Now he has a more permanent job alongside Coach Mike Holmgren, a close ally in Reinfeldt's first stint with the club, and Tim Ruskell, the team's new president of football operations.
Four top Seahawks executives exited after last season. Bob Whitsitt lost a power struggle with Holmgren and was dismissed as club president by owner Paul Allen. Ted Thompson, the vice president of football operations, took Green Bay's general manager job, and college scouting director Scot McCloughan left to become the San Francisco 49ers' vice president of player personnel. Bob Ferguson resigned as general manager as Ruskell was arriving.
The next question to be answered will be whether Holmgren can co-exist with Ruskell.
New York Super Bowl One Step Closer
New York moved closer to hosting the 2010 Super Bowl when the league's Super Bowl advisory committee on Tuesday approved a proposal to award the game to the city, contingent upon the construction of a Manhattan stadium for the Jets. The measure likely will be approved by the full ownership body today in Maui. . . .
The Dolphins are proposing that the Super Bowl should rotate among a few cities, including Miami, that would be semi-permanent hosts. Under the proposal, Miami would host the game once every three years and would build additional facilities in which other complementary events -- including the Pro Bowl, which could be played on the Sunday between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl -- could be used to create a two-week celebration of the sport. . . .
The league this week awarded 32 compensatory picks in the third through seventh rounds of next month's draft to teams that suffered net losses in free agency last year, as determined by a complex NFL formula. Denver received two of the six third-round choices awarded. Tennessee, Seattle, Kansas City and New England each received one third-round selection. . . .
The Dolphins released wide receiver David Boston but are considering re-signing him to a cheaper contract. He also has drawn interest from the 49ers. . . .
New England re-signed free-agent linebacker Don Davis, a versatile player who was used at safety at times last season. . . . Pittsburgh re-signed offensive tackle Barrett Brooks. New Orleans re-signed safety Steve Gleason. The Saints have re-signed seven of their unrestricted free agents and two of their restricted free agents. They also have added three unrestricted free agents from other teams -- Philadelphia guard Jermane Mayberry, Tampa Bay safety Dwight Smith and Tennessee tight end Shad Meier. . . .
Scott Pioli, the Patriots' front-office chief, was named the NFL's executive of the year for a second year in a row . . . The New York Giants agreed to a five-year contract to re-sign free-agent fullback Jim Finn. . . . Jacksonville released linebacker Tommy Hendricks, who was arrested last week for violating a restraining order involving his ex-wife. . . . NFL career rushing leader Emmitt Smith submitted his official retirement papers to the league, and Dallas placed him on its reserve-retired list. Smith signed a ceremonial contract with the Cowboys to retire as a member of the club. He announced his retirement during Super Bowl week. Smith spent the past two seasons with Arizona after 13 seasons with Dallas. . . . Chicago has decided against signing a veteran backup quarterback before the draft. The Bears might renew their search after the draft if they don't select a quarterback to go with Rex Grossman and Chad Hutchinson.