Once upon a time, restricted free agents signed offer sheets with new teams. Sometimes, those offer sheets were matched. Sometimes, they weren’t. Either way, it was a key part of the player movement/contract process.
Lately, restricted free agency has dried up. In 2010, when the rules of the uncapped year pushed eligibility for unrestricted free agency from four years to six years of service, only one player (former NFL running back Mike Bell) signed an offer sheet. That led to a collusion claim from the NFLPA.
This year, with 42 restricted free agents and the period for signing restricted free agents to offer sheets expiring at midnight, no offer sheets have been signed.
For players like Steelers receiver Mike Wallace, who reportedly wants huge money, it makes sense to keep the first-round pick that would go to the Steelers as compensation and use it on a rookie who would be paid far less money over the next five years. But for players like Steelers starting left guard/backup center Doug Legursky, who could have been had with no compensation at all, the fact that no one tried to sign him makes no sense.
Unless, of course, teams have agreed among themselves not to try to sign each other’s restricted free agents. Which would be collusion.
After 2013, restricted free agency will become even less relevant (if that’s possible), given that all contract for drafted rookies now are at least four years in duration. Thus, come 2014, only undrafted players or players cut within three years of being drafted and not claimed on waivers will ever be restricted free agents.
Still, with the relationship between the NFL and NFLPA suddenly deteriorating, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the union claims that collusion has forced the 42 restricted free agents to play under one-year deals in 2012.