NFL’s free-agent market could be a real bore
By Bob Brookover
The Philadelphia Inquirer
MIAMI — Much of the talk during the days leading up to Sunday night’s Pro Bowl at Sun Life Stadium focused on the watered-down rosters of the two teams, thanks to the NFL’s decision to play the game a week before the Super Bowl, eliminating all players from the NFC champion New Orleans Saints and AFC champion Indianapolis Colts.
A bad game, in other words, got worse.
In a way, however, the Pro Bowl exhibition between the NFC and AFC served as a tone-setter for what lies ahead for the league.
On March 5, the league’s free-agent market will open, and it promises to be a real bore. That’s because so many players who would have been unrestricted free agents — unless there is a new labor agreement — will instead be restricted ones under rules that go into effect next month.
Only one player on the Pro Bowl rosters appeared to fit the bill as an unrestricted free agent who could interest the Eagles. That player is defensive end Julius Peppers, who made more than $16 million last season after the Carolina Panthers put the franchise tag on him.
Peppers is considered one of the league’s premier pass rushers and has been since entering the league in 2002. He had 10› sacks this season and 25 over the last two years. He would be a nice complement opposite the Eagles’ Trent Cole, who played in his second Pro Bowl Sunday night.
For his part, Peppers said he has not given much thought to what his future as one of the league’s few valued unrestricted free agents will be.
“I’m just waiting to see what will happen,” Peppers said. “To be honest with you, I haven’t really thought about potential landing spots or what would be a good fit for me. We’ll know in a couple of weeks.”
According to an ESPN report Sunday night, the Panthers do not plan to place the franchise tag on Peppers again this off-season.
Given what a difficult time the Eagles had replacing Brian Dawkins at free safety last season, Green Bay’s Nick Collins would also seem to be a good free-agent fit in Philadelphia.
Collins, who has 13 interceptions over the last two seasons, said several Eagles joked with him about signing with Philadelphia.
“They’ve said, ’Come on over, we need a safety,’ “ Collins said. “I’ll go anywhere. I’m not picky at all, but I’m with Green Bay right now. They have me for another year.”
Collins, who just finished his fifth season with the Packers, is convinced he’ll be back in Green Bay because of the different set of free-agent rules expected to be in place next month.
A year ago, if a player’s contract expired and he had at least four seasons in the league, he would have been an unrestricted free agent. In 2010, only players who have been in the league six years or more will qualify for unrestricted free agency.
The only way that will change is in the unlikely event that the players’ union and the owners sign a new collective bargaining agreement before the start of free agency.
“I just look at it that the Packers have me for another year and I have to make the best of it,” Collins said. “I can’t look at it any other way. If I do, I’ll be upset and disappointed.”
There are four levels of tenders for restricted free agents, and they make it easy for teams to keep any players they want. If the Eagles, for instance, want to keep any of their restricted free agents, they can tender contracts of $1.01 million, $1.545 million, $2.198 million, or $2.792 million.
The lowest offer would guarantee that the Eagles would be compensated with a draft pick in the round in which the player was originally selected if another team signed him. The second-lowest offer would require a team to surrender a second-round pick. The second-highest offer would require a team to surrender a first-round pick, and the highest offer would require a team to surrender first and third-round draft picks.
A year ago, none of the league’s 55 restricted free agents changed teams. The Associated Press determined that 212 players who would have been unrestricted free agents will now be restricted under the new rules.
That group includes Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver, who played in his first Pro Bowl Sunday night.
“It has been a little bit confusing,” Weaver said. “I think as players we have to become more in tune with the CBA and more in tune with what the rules are so we can go to the bargaining table with knowledge. I am happy where I’m playing. I love Philly.”