One of those smaller rules in the NFL that very few people know about or, at the very least discuss, is the June 15 tender date for Restricted Free Agents that have yet to sign with their club. A RFA has a signing period in which he is able to negotiate with other teams. Once that deadline passes, usually a week before the NFL draft, the RFA is no longer truly free as his exclusive negotiating rights are assigned to the team that tendered him. This is done to avoid lengthy holdouts from a situation where a player really has no leverage.
The June 15 date is essentially the date on which an NFL team can impose a financial penalty on a RFA despite the fact that the player is not technically under contract. WR Victor Cruz received a first round tender worth $2.879 million from the New York Giants that he has failed to sign. On June 15 the Giants have the option to withdraw that offer and offer a new contract worth 110% of Cruz’ 2012 salary. Because Cruz only played for the minimum last season, $540,000, the 110% offer is actually lower that the required minimum salary so the Giants would need to offer Cruz $630,000.
If the Giants make this move Cruz potentially will lose $2.249 million in pay if the two sides can not come to terms on a contract and Cruz is forced to play on the June 15 tender. That does not mean the two sides can no longer work out a contract, but it puts Cruz’ in a significantly worse position and could strain the relationship between the two sides especially if the Giants consider applying the franchise tag on Cruz next season and force him to play out his contract at $630,000. Nothing forces the Giants to make the June 15 tender and they can chose to leave the situation as it, but the Giants do get immediate cap relief once the offer is withdrawn and the new tender made.
If the June 15 tender is made the next dates to look at come during the preseason if Cruz fails to report to camp. At that point the Giants could place him on a roster exempt status which would limit the amount of games he could play during the season. If Cruz failed to report before week 11 he would be ineligible to play in 2013 and the Giants would retain his rights next season.
I tend to think because of the strange Percy Harvin dynamic in Seattle that there could be a large disconnect between the Giants valuation of Cruz and Cruz’ valuation of himself. Normally slot receivers are paid at far lower rates than their outside counterparts but Harvin broke the mold with the lucrative extension he signed after being traded from Minnesota a few months ago. Cruz has been very productive the last two years and can easily argue that he should be worth that much money, but it is hard to fathom more teams committing salary close to that level for a slot player, even one with the game breaking ability Cruz has.
Though these situations are rare I can think of three June 15 tenders in recent years where the players were forced to accept the low tender. In 2010, the uncapped year, a number of players who believed that were going to be Unrestricted Free Agents were actually RFA’s. The Chargers’ Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeil and Patriots’ Logan Mankins were all players who fit into that category and resisted the notion of playing on the RFA tender. Both the Chargers and the Patriots removed the higher priced tender and replaced it with the June 15 tender. Jackson’s salary was reduced to $682,000, McNeils to $630,000, and Mankins’ to $1.54 million. Each had been scheduled to make $3.268 million.
The Chargers were granted exemptions on both McNeil and Jackson making them ineligible to play for 3 weeks after they reported back to the team. McNeil returned to active duty in week 5, Mankins in week 8, and Jackson in week 10. McNeil’s situation ended amicably with the two sides agreeing on a contract extension worth close to $45 million dollars upon his activation in week 5. Jackson and Mankins were both given the franchise tag the following season. Mankins signed a long term contract with New England once the lockout ended while Jackson played the season out on the franchise tag before signing with the Buccaneers in 2012.
So the next few days may represent a real important period for Victor Cruz and the Giants. If that June 15 tender is made it could signal a very long summer. If the Giants allow the date to come and go it means they are probably going to continue to be accommodating to Cruz while they work on a contract with the next crucial dates coming during the Preseason.