For first time since '93, no moves made
For the first time since the NFL implemented its current system in 1993, not a single restricted free agent changed teams before the Friday deadline.
Last year, three restricted players changed teams. Over the past three springs, 11 restricted players moved on to new clubs.
The deadline for teams to sign restricted free agents to offer sheets was Friday at 11:59 p.m. That would have given a player's current team a full seven days, the period established by free agency rules, to either match or pass on an offer sheet before next weekend's draft.
The deadline, however, proved uneventful, as no 11th-hour offer sheets were executed around the league.
During the restricted free agent signing period, which lasted nearly 2 months, four three-year veterans signed offer sheets with new franchises. All were matched by their incumbent teams, though, as the current clubs retained the players.
The offer sheets were signed by Houston wide receiver David Anderson (with Denver, $4.5 million for three years), New York Jets defensive back Abram Elam (with Cleveland, $1.5 million for one year), Green Bay defensive back Jarrett Bush (with Tennessee, $4.5 million over three years), and Minnesota fullback Naufahu Tahi (with Cincinnati, one year for $1.4 million).
Their current franchises retained a right of first refusal in February by making all four players one-year offers at the lowest tender level, $1.01 million. Anderson would have cost the Broncos a seventh-round draft choice as compensation had the Texans not matched the offer sheet. The three other players would have moved on to new teams without any draft choice compensation, since all of them entered the NFL as undrafted college free agents.
Not counting Houston defensive end Earl Cochran, whose tender was rescinded by the Texans, making him a total free agent,, there were 54 restricted veterans.
Only three players, New Orleans guard Jahri Evans, Tampa Bay tackle Donald Penn and Houston tight and Owen Daniels, received the highest-level tender of $2.792 million, with compensation of first- and third-round draft choices. Another restricted free agent, offensive tackle Willie Colon of Pittsburgh, received the second-highest tender of $2.198 million, and carried first-round compensation. But there were also 23 restricted free agents (tender level: $2.178 million) who carried second-round compensation.
The second-round tenders are probably the primary reason why no restricted players changed teams this year. Before the second-round tender was introduced in 2007, there were only three levels for teams to retain a right of first refusal. Most teams, reluctant to offer a tender at the first-round or first- and third-round levels, settled for the lowest-level offer, and that made players susceptible to offer sheets.
In all, 28 players were "over-tendered," meaning they received offers higher than the original draft-pick levels at which they entered the league. The second-round tender level, along with so many "over-tendered" players, made it difficult for restricted free agents to change teams.
Over the 16 previous years of the free agency system, 62 restricted players, nearly four per season, changed teams. In only four of those 16 years did fewer than three restricted veterans switch clubs.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
In an April 18 story on ESPN.com, the number of players receiving the highest-level tender of $2.792 million was incorrectly reported. Three players received that tender.