None of the non-exclusive franchise players have signed offer sheets with other teams this year. In theory, however, they still could.
Lost in the details regarding the operation of the franchise tag, the transition tag, and the various restricted free agency tenders is the fact that, while restricted free agents go off the market before the draft, franchise and transition players remain available to be signed into May and beyond.
And so, in theory, if a team decides to pursue one of the non-exclusive franchise players, like Bears running back Matt Forte, Ravens running back Ray Rice, Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe, and Lions defensive end Cliff Avril, it can still happen. Specifically, the player would sign an offer sheet, the current team would have an opportunity to match it, and if the current team doesn’t match within a week, the current team would receive a first-round pick in 2013 and a first-round pick in 2014.
The process, based on the language of the CBA, continues even after the July 16 deadline for signing a franchise player to a multi-year deal. That rule applies only to his current team. A new team can still sign the player to an offer sheet, even after July 16.
So how long does a new team have to sign an unsigned, non-exclusive franchise player to an offer sheet? The answer appears in Sections 14 and 15 of Article 10 of the labor deal.
Section 14(a) states that, if a transition player hasn’t signed a contract by July 22, only the player’s current club may negotiate or sign him thereafter. Section 15(a) contains no similar deadline for franchise players, stating only that, if the player hasn’t signed a contract with “a Club” by the Tuesday following the 10th week of the regular season, the player can’t play for any team that year. Read together, these provisions imply that an unsigned, non-exclusive franchise player can be signed to an offer sheet up until the Tuesday following the ninth week of the regular season, since the prior club must have one week to match before the contract is finalized.
The only potential caveat to this approach comes from the July 16 deadline restricting the prior team’s ability to sign a franchise player to a multi-year deal. The correct interpretation of the CBA could be that matching the offer is different from signing the player to a multi-year deal. Otherwise, the CBA as a practical matter allows a team to sign a non-exclusive franchise player to an offer sheet after July 16, with the player’s prior team having no ability to match.
Confused? Good, because so are we. The point is that unsigned, non-exclusive franchise players remain fair game, even now. Which means that, for example, if any team decides for whatever reason that it’s not happy with its current depth chart at tailback, that team can still make a run at Ray Rice or Matt Forte.
If, of course, that team is willing to give up a first-round pick in 2013 and a first-round pick in 2014.