Restricted free agents, what's the deal with that! I mean, teams can make an offer, the current team can match ... the thing is, it just never happens anymore. Is this the year that all changes? There's talk that teams could break the unspoken agreement of thou shalt not covet another team's player in an effort to snag New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz.
Could the St. Louis Rams be the ones to make that move?
Whoa there partner, let's start at the beginning. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network was the one to broach the subject on Friday (see the link above), telling the world that Cruz could draw some interest in a thin free agent market, despite the price tag.
The Giants are expected to put a first-round tender on their top ranch hand. A team can make Cruz an contract offer. If happens, Jerry Reese has two options. He can exercise his right to match the offer, keeping Cruz after having let another team do his negotiating for him. Or, he could say adios amigo! and get a first-round pick in exchange for letting his guy walk.
Noted riverboat gambler Les Snead has two first-round picks. If Col. Shuffle wanted to nab Cruz, he'd have to part with his pick No. 16, because that's the team's original pick.
On the one hand, Cruz is experienced but still young enough to make a difference. He also happens to be pretty darn good, as good as what you'd get from a first-round pick.
But there's a catch. Getting Cruz means extending him a hefty bag of poker chips. Rookie receivers are much, much cheaper. But the accounting wizardry doesn't stop there. To get Cruz, and not do Jerry Reese's deal making for him, the Rams would have to use the poison pill, a front loaded deal that makes it onerous for the Giants to match. See Hutchinson, Steve, when the Vikings did it awhile back.
That kind of deal would cost the Rams, taking away the flexibility to do much else on the market. It would also put more money on the books that couldn't be used further down the road, for signing free agents next year or locking up these young players currently blossoming under the tender hand of Jeff Fisher.
Oh yeah, not to mention teams just don't mess with restricted free agents. Some conspiracy minded folks might think that's some kind of collusion, but we know that NFL owners NEVER, EVER do any kind of collusion, not with unwritten 2010 salary caps, restricted free agents, etc.
The reality is, it's not really to a team's advantage to poach RFAs. Draft picks are gold these days. You're better off throwing money at free agents than throwing money at restricted free agents AND losing a pick in the process.
That said, it might be worth revisiting the very purpose of restricted free agency in the next CBA. Addendum: restricted free agency is kind of going away, now that the CBA requires every drafted player to sign a four-year deal. There will still be undrafted players that don't sign four-year deals. It could also happen with a player who gets cut and turns up on another before his four accrued seasons ... so if you're still waiting on Jabara Williams to hit it big ...