For weeks many notable free agents have sat on the sidelines waiting for an opportunity and that opportunity may present itself now that the draft is complete. For one the completion of the draft now let’s teams know what positions they failed to land a potential starter or backup at and where they will need veteran help in 2020. More importantly now that the draft is over that means the compensatory draft process nears an end and opens up opportunities for teams that were avoiding free agents to protect potential draft picks in 2021.
For those unaware of the compensatory draft process you can do a search of articles on OTC by Nick that really spells it out but the short version is that the NFL awards 32 additional draft selections to the teams that lose more unrestricted free agents than they sign during the unrestricted free agency signing period. Losing a big salaried player may reward a team with a draft pick as high as a third round draft pick while losing a lower salaried one may result in a 7th round pick.
As the dust clears in free agency teams get a clearer picture of what draft picks that they will likely be awarded the following year either using their own models or using Nicks here at OTC. They then begin to become very cautious to protect those draft picks as best they can by not signing players from other teams that may impact those compensatory draft selection. When the compensatory period ends then they can freely sign those players without it hurting their draft selections.
The timeframe that the NFL considers for the compensatory process is now tied to the NFL Draft. This Monday at 4PM is the final deadline. Here is the relevant text from the CBA regarding the deadline.
“a Compensatory Free Agent (“CFA”) shall be defined as an Unrestricted Free Agent (“UFA”) who: (i) signed with a new Club during the prior free agency signing period (with the 2020 free agency period being the first such “prior free agency signing period” under this appendix) prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, on the Monday following the NFL Draft for that League Year…”
There is a little more to this which will we discuss in a second but for almost every free agent they will no longer count in the compensatory process provided they do not sign a contract by 4PM on April 27. Using the Saints as an example to illustrate the difference they are currently projected to receive a 3rd round pick for losing Teddy Bridgewater and a 6th round pick for losing AJ Klein. They are reportedly looking to sign Jameis Winston to a contract. If they sign Jameis Winston tomorrow they will lose one of those two picks depending on Winston’s ultimate salary ($14M+ they lose for Bridgewater otherwise they lose for Klein). If they wait until April 28 to make the signing official they keep both draft picks regardless of who they sign. By waiting until the 28th it also blocks a division rival from possibly being awarded a compensatory draft pick for the loss of their player.
Now this is where the “little more to it” comes into play. Continuing that part from the CBA is the following
“…or whose rights were retained by the prior Club by sending the player the Unrestricted Free Agent tender prior to such time and date;”
This is one of these small rules in the CBA that most are unaware of and its rarely used, but what this refers to is that teams can still retain the rights to their players by extending a tender for 110% of their salary from the prior year. This doesn’t block the player from free agency right now it just means they still count in the compensatory process. This tender has to be extended by this Monday if it is going to be used.
Usually this is just a formality and nobody applies the tender. The last player I can think of who was tendered was LeGarrette Blount by the Patriots in 2017. He promptly signed with the Eagles who did a contract that was too low by design to count in the compensatory process. Had he not signed with the Eagles or any other team by July 22 he would have only been able to negotiate with New England from that point forward for the rest of the season.
The reason nobody applies the tender is the potential cost. Blount was cheap. A player like Winston, if tendered, is not. Winston would count for $23 million and generally the tender requires terms to carry over which should mean his contract would be guaranteed. Since nobody is signing Winston to a $23M contract the Bucs would be foolish to extend the tender because he may sign it and that would create chaos for Tampa who has no desire to employ him anyway.
The main one that maybe could get tendered is Jadeveon Clowney though his tender would seem to be much more than Seattle is willing to pay him as a free agent. So while that would protect their compensatory rights I think they may pass on that. The more interesting one is Melvin Gordon of the Chargers. Gordon agreed to a contract with the Denver Broncos but it is the one outstanding contract this offseason as they have yet to officially process it with the NFL.
Due to the Covid-19 outbreak there have been large delays on contracts but most of those outstanding contracts were cleared up this past Friday with the Rams and Jets processing their remaining UFA signings. It’s possible the NFL has already made an exception due to this for contracts agreed to in principle that have not been formally backed out of or signed that they will count in the compensatory process. If however that is not the case then Denver would potentially open up a path to gain an extra comp pick while the Chargers could lose one. The Chargers could block any chance of that by issuing a tender knowing that he has a more lucrative contract in front of him with Denver that is being delayed for whatever reason. So while this may be nothing it may be worth at least keeping an eye on.
As for teams with salary cap space to add free agents the teams right now with the most should be the Browns, Redskins, Lions, Colts, Eagles, Chargers, Titans, Bills, and Dolphins. Of those teams the Eagles, Chargers, and Titans would have reasons to wait until now. A few of the others may have a reason for a little more protection though not much. Per the cancellation charts teams that are likely protecting picks would be the Patriots, Ravens, Steelers, Chiefs, Cowboys, Bears, Packers, Vikings, Falcons, Saints, Rams, and 49ers.
You can check out our latest group of free agents on the free agency page but here are top 50 most expensive (based on last contract) players whose status will change this week if they go untendered