Last year, there were 55 restricted free agents available on the open market.
How many of them signed with a new team?
For the first time since the Collective Bargaining Agreement first went into effect in 1993, not a single restricted free agent signed with a new team.
That will likely change in 2010.
As Dave Spadaro pointed out in his recent On The Inside column, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters that it was "virtually certain" that there will be an uncapped year in 2010. That means there are 212 players who would become unrestricted free agents in a cap year who are now only going to be restricted free agents, according to a study by The Associated Press. A player needs six seasons of service instead of the usual four to become an unrestricted free agent.
The Eagles have eight of those players: cornerback Ellis Hobbs, guard/center Nick Cole, fullback Leonard Weaver, tight end Alex Smith, linebacker Omar Gaither, wide receiver Jason Avant, guard Max Jean-Gilles and linebacker Chris Gocong.
But to sign a restricted free agent there are additional costs. Depending on the tender level a team places on a player, the new team would not only have to sign the player to a deal that the old team doesn't want to match but the new team could have to surrender draft picks as well. And with a draft fortified by quality underclassmen, will a team want to sign a restricted free agent to a long-term deal AND hand over draft picks in the process? The draft pick compensation ranges from the round the player was originally drafted in to first- and third-round picks.
What will be interesting is to see whether teams try to sign their own restricted free agents to long-term deals or wait and see what the market bears and simply match whatever offer comes along.
Teams still have even more ammo to keep its own players. Teams already have the ability to use either a franchise tag or transition tag which limits the ability for unrestricted free agents to sign with another team. Teams will have an additional transition tag this off-season.
And if Eagles fans were concerned about a team like the Cowboys spending like crazy without a salary cap, rest at ease. The uncapped year includes what is called the "Final Eight Plan." This means that teams who reached the Divisional Round of the playoffs (final eight) can only sign a unrestricted free agent for every one of their own who has signed elsewhere. That should limit the ability of the other elite teams in the NFC this year - Minnesota, New Orleans and Arizona - to improve in free agency.
Lastly, those who are fortunate enough to reach unrestricted free agency if 2010 does become an uncapped year - the Eagles have four in safety Sean Jones, linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, defensive end Jason Babin and linebacker Tracy White - teams don't necessarily have to open the wallets. While there was a salary floor for teams in a capped year, there is no salary floor in an uncapped year.
In just a little over a month, one of the most interesting free agent periods of recent NFL history will commence.
-- Posted by Chris McPherson, 8:50 p.m., February 1