While it is rare to see teams pursuing Restricted Free Agents in recent years, we have seen two offers made in the last two years and today we actually had two teams go after another teams RFA’s. Oakland signed Packers safety Sean Richardson to an offer sheet reportedly worth around $2.5 million while Tampa signed Lions defensive end George Johnson to an undisclosed offer sheet.
The way the process works is that both the Packers and Lions will have five days to match the offer sheet. If they opt to match it the player will revert to his orginal team under the terms of the offer he signed with the new team. If they do not match the offer sheet the player will join the new team. No draft compensation will be awarded as both Richardson and Johnson only had the right of first refusal tender applied.
The Buccaneers offer to Johnson will be a much more interesting scenario to watch unfold. The Lions currently have about $3.6 million in cap space, so the cap heavy Bucs can use that to craft an offer that will make it difficult to match. Tampa Bay also uses a completely different contract structure (all cash) than the Lions (signing bonus heavy) in the event it is a multi year contract that the Lions have to consider matching. If this is a multi-year offer the Buccaneers can use a similar mechanism as the Browns last year with Andrew Hawkins, and RFA at the time with the Bengals, where an all cash type deal was frontloaded in the first two years.
Any offer that would increase Johnson’s cap charge by $1.5 million would likely result in the Lions being forced to further restructure contracts to comply with the cap when it comes time to sign draft picks and then operate during the season. The fact that James Ihedigbo is unhappy with his contract only makes the situation worse. The team has seemingly avoided further restructures to the contract of Matt Stafford or Calvin Johnson to help fix their books, but like Dallas with Romo a few days ago, may find they have no choice to keep a player they feel they need.
Green Bay has no cap concerns when it comes to matching Oakland’s offer. This is simply a play hoping that the Packers just dont value Richardson around the 2nd round tender level, since they passed on their opportunity to pay him that way a few weeks ago. That was the same strategy the Patriots used when they targeted wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders of the Steelers, who have given him the lowest tender offer, in 2013. The Steelers matched that offer and there is probably a good chance the Packers will as well if they see any value in the player.