Last week, the Chargers decided not to issue any restricted free agency tender to running back Darren Sproles. We’d been told that they opted not to even use the low-level “right of first refusal” tender because they feared owing him 110 percent of his 2009 franchise player salary.
But now they’ve changed their minds. Instead of going with the lowest level, however, they’ve decided to push the offer to the other end of the spectrum.
Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the Chargers have applied the highest tender to Sproles, guaranteeing them a first-round and third-round pick if he leaves, and guaranteeing Sproles nearly $7.3 million in salary for 2010.
Sproles reportedly was scheduled to visit the Chiefs, Rams, Eagles, and Redskins — an amazing itinerary given that the mere lining up of visits before midnight on the first day of free agency constitutes tampering per se.
The Chargers could still trade him, but whoever gets him will be dealing with contractual demands premised on first-year compensation of $7.27 million.
The move also could jack up the market for the various running backs who are and soon will be available, especially since the Chargers are paying so much money for a return specialist and a third-down tailback. Then again, maybe the Chargers have decided to use Sproles like the Jaguars used Maurice Jones-Drew after Fred Taylor left, as a guy who is on the field more often — and who gets more opportunities to make things happen.
Regardless of the manner in which the uncapped year unfolds, the Chargers already have scored a major coup. In a capped year, they would have had five key unrestricted free agents whom they would have had to sign to new deals or let walk away: Sproles, linebacker Shawne Merriman, left tackle Marcus McNeill, receiver Vincent Jackson, receiver Malcom Floyd. The franchise tag would have been available for only one of them.
In an uncapped year, the Chargers are able to keep them all, at a total payout of less than $20 million.