A year after the San Diego Chargers used the franchise tag on running back Darren Sproles, the Chargers will apply no restriction of any kind to the five-year veteran, allowing him to leave via free agency if he so chooses.
Adam Schefter of ESPN has the news of the Chargers’ decision in this regard.
The deeper question is whether the Chargers (or anyone else) realize that the team could have applied the low-level RFA tender, which would have given the team a right of first refusal as to any offer sheet signed by Sproles elsewhere. Though some think that the Chargers could have retained Sproles’ rights only by tendering him an offer of nearly $7.3 million for one year (i.e., 110 percent of his 2009 salary), we set forth yesterday with nausea-inducing detail the union’s interpretation of the CBA regarding the ability to simply match any offer made to a restricted free agent. As to Sproles, a right of first refusal could have been secured by the Chargers via a tender offer of only $1.226 million.
So why didn’t they do it? We can come up with four possible explanations.
First, they simply don’t want him, at $1.226 million, $7.3 million, or any price.
Second, they don’t believe that the CBA permits the right of first refusal to be secured with a tender of only $1.226 million.
Third, they don’t want to create a situation in which a team interested in Sproles would have to use the Hutchinson/Burleson-style poison pill or risk the NFLPA pitching a fit.
Fourth, maybe they want to keep Sproles from going to the Colts.
Think about that one for a second. Since Sproles is an unrestricted free agent, the Colts would be able to sign Sproles only if one of their two unrestricted free agents — linebacker Gary Brackett or kicker Matt Stover — sign with another team. Even then, the Colts would be limited by the contract paid to Brackett or Stover by his new team. But if the Chargers had tendered Sproles as a restricted free agent with no compensation, Sproles would have been fair game for the Colts or any of the other final four teams.
Given the damage Sproles did to the Colts in the 2008 playoffs, the Colts surely would be interested in getting him. With the lowest level, no-compensation RFA tender, the Colts easily could have had him. Now, they have to wait for Brackett to leave, and hope that Brackett’s new contract elsewhere is big enough to satisfy Sproles.
Even if it is, Sproles could be long gone before Brackett finds his next suitor.