Because teams reserve the right to match offers given to their restricted free agents, that avenue of player procurement was mostly an afterthought until 2003. It was then that the Washington Redskins signed and landed four restricted free agents, sending a rude wake-up call to general managers league-wide.
It seems that A.J. Smith was paying attention. In 2006, every San Diego draft pick signed a contract of no less than four years. The signing of Scott Chandler to a four-year deal reveals that Smith has similar negations in store for the class of '07.
This offseason, Smith was given a stern reminder of the importance of enforcing lengthier deals, when restricted free agent Michael Turner became a hot item despite being tagged with the highest possible tender. Had Turner agreed to a four-year pact back in 2004, all of that drama could have been averted.
Of course, several agents are reluctant to have their players sign these longer deals, as eliminating the possibility for restricted free agency guarantees their players another year of work under the terms of a rookie contract.
But what alternative is there? If Legedu Naanee refuses to sign a four-year deal, his only course of action would be to sit out the season and re-enter the draft in 2008. A fifth-round pick in 2007, he wouldn't even be on the radar next April.
Teams have all the leverage in these situations, and Smith is wise to take advantage of that fact. It may not seem like much, but consider the following:
For the next two years, Chandler serves as the No. 3 tight end behind Antonio Gates and Brandon Manumaleuna. After Manumaleuna leaves as a free agent after the 2008 season, Chandler gets promoted and excels because of all the attention given to Gates.
If Chandler had signed a three-year deal, he would be a restricted free agent following his first year as the No. 2 tight end, assuring him a significant tender if nothing else. Now, his breakout season (tentatively scheduled for 2009) won't result in a big payday until 2010.
That may not seem all that important, but such mechanisms are critical to running a good business. And in the world of professional football, that's what it's all about.