Not long ago, NFL owners were squabbling with each other about the disparity in revenue among the high-earning and low-earning franchises. (Coincidentally or otherwise, those gripes disappeared once the most recent CBA was completed.)
Now, teams have a different topic on which they differ: Cap space.
Some teams have plenty. Others don’t have very much. Others are in the red, and they’re currently scrambling to jettison the excess.
In theory, it should make for an interesting restricted free agency period, when cap-rich teams can rob from the cap-poor by frontloading offer sheets that as a practical matter can’t be matched.
The most intriguing name in the restricted free agency market this year will be receiver Victor Cruz. The Giants are expected to tender him at the first-round level. (And if Alex Smith is worth up to two twos, Cruz is worth at least a low-to-mid one.) While the Giants aren’t among the worst of the cap situations, if a team is willing to offer something close to first-day-of-free-agency market value, the Giants likely will pass on matching.
In practice, however, restricted free agency has become a useless exercise in recent years. Some (like Ross Tucker — I mention him in part because I know how much he likes to see his name in print) believe that teams don’t pursue restricted free agents because the right to match means that the prospective team will have simply negotiated the player’s new contract with his current team, for free. But if teams with cap space target RFAs from teams without it, that won’t happen in 2013.
If, given the current cap disparities, there continues to be little interest in restricted free agents this year, the NFLPA may want to explore the question of whether the NFL has adopted an unwritten agreement to not pursue each other’s restricted free agents.