Restricted Free Agency Should Be Hot Market

Because most of the top free agents will be restricted, an offseason unlike any other is shaping up around the NFL. We tell you why the restricted free agent market will be hotter than ever and why the Packers likely will watch from the sideline.

As a general manager who generally likes his own players better than someone else's players, Ted Thompson has about as much use for free agency as Rex Ryan has for a piece humble pie.

Throw in the rule changes that will make this far and away the worst market in the history of NFL free agency, and the odds are good that Thompson will be scouting the top college prospects instead of working the phones when free agency opens for business on March 5.

That doesn't mean free agency will be a non-story, though.

The Packers have 11 free agents on their roster, including five restricted free agents with considerable starting experience: Daryn Colledge, Nick Collins, Johnny Jolly, Jason Spitz and Tramon Williams.

"The thing is, because there's no salary cap right now and there's not going to be one — it's almost certain — teams can put some unbelievable offers together," senior NFL reporter Adam Caplan said of this year's restricted free agents. "For instance, let's just say a team has someone that's restricted. The GM could say, ‘You know what? We have guys we like, we're going to go to a certain point.' But Daniel Snyder, the Redskins' owner who loves to spend money, he could just put together a great contract that no one can match."

What will be one of the unpredictable story lines this offseason will be what transpires in restricted free agency.

Because the owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement, the experience threshold to become an unrestricted free agent has moved from four years to six. That takes two whole draft classes off the market — resulting in 212 players around the NFL who will be restricted rather than unrestricted free agents.

In years past, restricted free agents rarely changed teams. That's because the team pursuing a restricted free agent not only had to make an offer rich enough that the player's current team wouldn't match it but had to surrender a draft pick, as well.

Last year, none of the 55 restricted free agents joined another team. That will change this year. Only 19 of Caplan's top 50 free agents are unrestricted, and that number surely will decrease with teams being afforded three opportunities to lock up players (one franchise tag and two transition tags) instead of one (one franchise or one transition).

"If you look at the list of unrestricted guys, it's not a very strong list," Caplan said. "Is it going to be more toward restricted free agents and will those guys get a lot of interest? I think more than usual, absolutely."

What does this mean for the Packers?

For one, Thompson almost certainly will not be active in free agency unless a middle-of-the-road unrestricted free agent remains on the market after the opening weekend. No way will Thompson spend big money on a restricted free agent and give up a valuable draft pick.

Second, Thompson and the personnel department have some tough decisions to make with their restricted free agents in the next seven weeks.

There are four tender levels for a restricted free agent — original-round compensation ($1.01 million last year; original-round draft pick as compensation), second round ($1.545 million), first round ($2.198 million) and first and third round ($2.792 million).

To give a team the right to match a contract offer, it must make one of those four contract offers. In the case of Jarrett Bush last year, the Packers offered him the minimum tender of $1.01 million. When the Titans signed Bush to a three-year, $4.5 million deal, the Packers decided to match. Because Bush entered the league as an undrafted free agent, they would have lost him with no compensation.

In the case of Colledge and Collins, the former second-round picks would fetch the Packers only a third-round pick if they're offered the money-saving original-round compensation.

In years past, the combination of money and draft picks has been enough to scare away suitors. But with the talent lying in restricted free agency, all bets are off this year.

"This is the most fascinating part," Caplan said. "Who's going to spend money putting together good offer sheets so the originating team can't match them?

"Let's just say you've got a player and you put a first-round tender on him. Let's say the other team says, ‘You know what, we still want the guy.' Then the onus is on the team that wants him, what kind of contract do they write for the kid? Then the originating team would have to match that offer. That's what's going to be fascinating. There's so many restricted guys out there. If you want a player, bottom line, he's probably going to be restricted. No one seems to be talking about this. It's absolutely going to be a situation where restricted guys are going to dominate this class."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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