Defensive tackle Fred Evans was offered a second-round tender as a restricted free agent and Tarvaris Jackson was given an "original-round" round tender, meaning the Vikings would normally get a second-round pick as compensation if another team offer Jackson a contract that the Vikings declined to match. However, in this case the Vikings would only get a third-round pick if Jackson is signed by another team.
To preface how restricted free agency works, there are five levels of tenders, each with its own cost structure and compensation requirements. The highest calls for a first- and third- round draft pick in return, followed by a first-round draft pick as compensation, then a second-rounder, then an "original-round tender" (compensation commensurate with the round the player was drafted in), and finally the right of first refusal, which carries no compensation if the original team doesn't match an offer sheet signed by the free-agent player.
Dan Masonson, the NFL's director of corporate communications, helped clear up some of the confusion in a statement sent to Viking Update Wednesday. Here's how it works. By league rule, if a player (Evans) is given a second-round tender and was drafted after the second round, the team must give any of its restricted free agents that were second-round draft picks at least the "second-round tender" option to be eligible for second-round compensation. In Jackson's case, he was given an "original-round tender." In such instances, that compensation would be one round lower than his original draft round. Because Evans was tendered at a higher level than his draft pick, by giving Jackson the "original-round tender" the Vikings couldn't put it at a level of a second-round pick as compensation. It becomes a third-round pick.
The same level applies for any first-round draft picks that might be free agents – the Vikings don't have any this year, but the principle remains the same. By giving Ray Edwards (a fourth-round pick in 2006) a first-rounder tender, if the Vikings had any other first-rounders that were restricted free agents, by placing an "original-round tender" to that player, the most the Vikings could get as compensation to an unmatched offer sheet would be a second-round pick.
One of the keys to original-round tender is saving money. If Jackson had been tendered at a second-round level, he would be due $1.76 million in 2010, but if another team signed him, the Vikings would get a second-round pick as compensation. By tendering him an original-round tender, if he stays with the Vikings, his salary would be $1.18 million, but the Vikings would receive a third-rounder as compensation. If the Vikings were afraid of losing Jackson, they wouldn't have put the original-round tender on him. The likelihood of a team making an offer with a third-round pick as compensation is much greater than a second-round pick due to the value placed on descending-round draft picks. What might get a team to shy away for a second-round pick could easily get them to bite if it only costs a third-round selection. The Vikings have another second-round RFA in tackle Ryan Cook. No announcement has yet been made as to what kind of offer (if any) they will tender toward him. On Wednesday afternoon, he hadn't received any tender.
On the other end of the tendering spectrum is Denver. The Broncos on Wednesday tried to cover their bases and will pay the price for it. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall, a fourth-round pick, was given a first-round qualifying offer. As a result, QB Kyle Orton and guard Kris Kuper both received first-round tender offers and DE Elvis Dumervil, who led the NFL in sacks, received the mother of all tenders, which would require compensation of a first- and third-round draft pick.
Each team is taking its own approach to the new rules because, in the past, only third-year players were subject to the RFA rules. With the salary cap going away, one of the safeguards put in place to prevent a mass exodus and the potential of teams stockpiling young talent, players must have six years vested in the NFL, as opposed to four under the expiring CBA.
If a team refuses to tender an offer to a player, as was the case with CB Karl Paymah, that player becomes an unrestricted free agent and is free to sign with any team without compensation to the Vikings.
Still confused? Don't worry. You're not alone in that boat.