By March 4, teams were required to decide whether to extend tender offers to their restricted free agents, a class of players made larger than usual in 2010 due to the specific status of the labor deal between the league and the players. With the salary cap disappearing, the threshold for unrestricted free agency moved from four years to six.
Thus, any player with three, four, or five years of service and an expired contract became eligible for restricted free agency. Each team then was required to decide whether to extend an offer to each restricted free agent — along with the level of salary that would be offered. The higher the salary, the greater the compensation if the player signed an offer sheet with another team — and if the current team opted not to match.
The deadline for signing players to offer sheets expired eight days before the draft. Thereafter, restricted free agents had two options: play for their current teams, or play for no one.
June 1 has relevance to the process because, technically, the tenders must be re-issued on that date. That exercise becomes particularly relevant to Rams safety O.J. Atogwe.
Atogwe was a franchise player in 2009. To avoid a requirement that he be tendered an offer worth at least 110 percent of his franchise-player salary from last season, the Rams tendered him at the lowest possible level, which gave them only a right to match any other offer he received. As of June 1, the re-issued tender must be the greater of the previous tender or 110 percent of the prior year’s salary. Thus, in order to retain exclusive rights to Atogwe, the Rams will have to increase Atogwe’s take from a non-guaranteed offer of $1.226 million to a guaranteed (if signed) tender worth nearly $7 million.
According to NFLLabor.com, Atogwe and 36 other restricted free agents have not officially signed their tender offers (one of them, Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh) reportedly has accepted his. Most of them likely will be re-issued a tender on June 1. It’s unlikely that the Rams will do so with Atogwe. If they don’t, he’ll be free to sign with any other team.
The next key date comes on June 15, when the tender can be reduced to 110 percent of the player’s 2009 salary, a development that would dramatically reduce the 2010 salaries for some of the unsigned restricted free agents.