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Why don't teams sign more restricted free agents? The common response is a team must give up a draft choice. However, would you rather spend millions of dollars on an unproven talent or on a proven player?

We often hear owners characterize the NFL as a business. With this is mind, why don't we hear that signing a restricted free agent (RFA) makes financial sense? In the 2009 NFL Draft, the first round salaries ranged from $11 to $72 million, with guarantees ranging from $6 to $41 million, respectively. Is that the kind of money you want to throw at a guy who may or may not even make it in the NFL? Why not invest in a player who has already shown they can perform at this level?

The argument against signing a RFA is the team will have to give up a draft choice according to the player's tender. If you would like to know more about tenders and free agency, go ask the commish. Put simply, the price for a good RFA is usually a team's first-round draft choice, and if the player is reallygood, the price is the team's first and third-round draft choices.

How many first round draft choices go on to be stars in the NFL? Not as many as one would think. In fact, you need to go all the way back to the 2001 draft to find a first round where half of the 32 picks became Pro Bowlers. Looking at drafts over the past ten years, an average of ten first round selections have played in a Pro Bowl. In other words, teams have less than a one-third chance of selecting a Pro Bowler in the first round.

Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk further argues for signing a RFA over drafting a rookie in the first round.

"Why take a chance on a rookie who might never become anything other than a guy who once was a great college football player?  If the goal is to use the draft pick to get a good player, it makes more sense to use the draft pick on a player that we already know will be good."

Given how many first round draft choices turn out to be average players or even busts, I tend to agree with Florio's assessment.

There are a number of proven RFAs, on both sides of the ball, who general managers have to be considering this year. Brandon Marshall has already visited with the Seahawks. Other RFAs - Elvis Dumervil, Vincent Jackson, Shawn Merriman, Marcus McNeill, Nick Collins, Darren Sproles - have surely taken note.

Why don't teams sign restricted free agents? Is it pride? Do general managers not want to admit they should have drafted Brandon Marshall (who was picked late in the 4th round at #119) with their first round pick in 2006 rather than John McCargo? Is it worry over poisonous provisions in contracts? Ever since the Steve Hutchinson and Nate Burleson fiasco, the poison pill has rarely reared its ugly head, so I don't think that is the case. Do owners and general managers abide by an unwritten code we are unaware of? Personally, I can't figure out why more RFAs don't get signed to offer sheets.

With the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL as we know it no longer exists. Under normal circumstances, general managers would rarely consider a RFA. However, this year is different. With no CBA and no salary cap, owners and general managers have a lot more freedom. Conversely, fourth and fifth year players have a lot less freedom. This combination should lead to some strange days ahead.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (6) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

PackersRS's picture

I strangely agree with you on this one. I allways come to the perception that a RFA would be worse to the cap and the locker room chemistry than a rookie. But you're right. With no salary cap, and with no Rookie cap, it's better to spend a 1st in a RFA than in a college player.

Asshalo's picture

Dumerville is going for a 1st and 3rd, but don't forget we would have to outbid Denver. Who knows how much they or any other team is willing to spend to land their respective RFAs. I think Ted can dip into RFA, but you have to remember he really values draft picks (it's his bread and butter) and he never overpays for players.

Hofschneider's picture

and; another thing about this system of RFAs is, that is says nothing about the absolut spot, where you can draft players. If I were GM of the Saints (or even at #23) this year and would think, that I need a passrush (or a LT), I would go after Dumerville (or Donald Penn) immediately. There is no downside in it. If you're offering something Denver matches, you keep all your picks and Denver has to pay the prize- literally.

FITZCORE1252's picture

Biggest problem with going the FA or RFA route is, people tend to get lazy when they get paid. Not all of them, but many of them (yes, that happens to rookies too, though I would argue with much less frequency). Also, alot of these guys are proven, but how much do they have left? Look at the bayurz, they basically pissed away this years draft to get Cutler and Adams last year... how's that working out? Now they're in desperation mode, so they reach for three 30 somethings in FA... I don't see that ending well for them.

I would like to thank Daniel Snyder. He has pretty much proven that you can't buy a championship just by throwing stupid cash at big name guys.

That being said,
there are definitely scenarios where I would gladly give up a pick for the right vet. For instance, I think a 3rd rounder for a guy like Cromartie was a great deal for the Jets and I wish the GBP would have made a move on that one. Maybe he never returns to his form of a couple years ago, but for a 3rd and a workable salary, I think that's a deal that has potential.

I think when used in moderation there is definitely a place for RFA. When you mortgage your future on them, that's when you get into trouble.


wgbeethree's picture

You almost automatically overpay for any RFA. If you offer him a contract that is reasonable or market value (without poison pills which IMO is a complete D-bag move) his previous team is likely to match it. So you are giving up a pick (or picks) AND overpaying which doesn't make it enticing.
I'd almost completely think the opposite regarding using a late first compared to an early first. I'd be much more apt to sign a RFA if i had a top 5 pick compared to a bottom 5 pick. Say I wanted a player like Marshall. In order to sign him away from Denver you would first have to pay him MORE than the Broncos think he is worth (let's for arguments sake say a contract the equivalent of splitting GJ85's and roddy white's...5 years 38 million). That's almost exactly the size of the contract DHB got when drafted seventh last year. I'd definitely take Marshall over DHB for the same price. That would make it a better value IMO. Now take Hakeem Nicks the 29th pick who got a contract for 5 years and about 13 million. Would I take Marshall over Nicks for the same price? Certainly. Would I take Marshall over Nicks at THREE times the cost? Not a chance. Value wise I would be far more likely to trust that I could get a better deal at the bottom of the first than I could through signing Marshall.

Guess as it almost always does it just comes down to value to me. If you have a top 5 pick you are going to be paying a untested guy the same as a proven guy so it makes more sense to sign the veteran and give up the pick. At the bottom of the round you are going to be paying 1/3rd the price for the untested guy. If you aren't certain that you can find somebody who would give you at least 1/3 the production (or equal value) compared to the RFA I think you're in the wrong business.

mike's picture

Richard Marshall......Thats all i have to say

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