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2012 NFL Free Agency Guide by Lloyd Vance

Posted by Lloyd Vance | Leave a comment »


The 2012 NFL Free Agency period arrived at 4 PM on March 13th and one of the biggest names available is Houston Texans DE/OLB Mario Williams

Remember “Nmandi Asomugha”, all you fans out there with dreams of signing a free agent and moving instantly into Super Bowl contention.  Asomugha was “the” biggest free agent during the 2011 free agency period.  After the NFL Lockout finally ended, former Pro Bowl cornerback signed a deal of a lifetime (five-year, $60 million deal, and at least $25 million guaranteed) with the Philadelphia Eagles on July 29, 2011.  The move made him one of the the highest paid defensive player at the time to leave the lowly Oakland Raider to sign with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie’s “All-In” team.

The moves of bringing in Asomugha and fellow free agency pickups receiver Steve Smith (1-year, $2 Million guaranteed), defensive end Jason Babin (5-year, 28 Million with 5-6 M guaranteed) and backup quarterback Vince Young (1-year, $4 Million) were supposed to instantly put the Eagles in the thick of not only the 2011 NFC East race, but quite possibly Super Bowl XLVI.  And then Young gave the quote of the season when asked during his introductory press conference about all of the Eagles free agency signings.  V.Y not thinking of the pressure to come with it, responded with the now-infamous “I feel like we’re the Dream team”. 

However history will definitely show that the 2011-12 Philadelphia Eagles, despite a massive off-season spending spree weren’t anywhere near a “Dream Team”.  As they did not reach the postseason and finished with a disappointing 8-8 record with major cries for the dismissal of head coach Andy Reid at the end of the season.  For all the dollars and “Dream Team” talk heaped on the Eagles, Lurie didn’t receive anywhere near the return expected on his large investment – Asomugha (3 INTs), Young (4 TDs, 9 INTs), Babin (18 sacks, but had difficulty stopping the run) and Smith (11 receptions for 124 yards and 1 TD)

I am sure during the 2011 season, NFL team general managers and owners paid particular attention to the Eagles’ fortunes to see the affect of extravagant free agency spending on a team.  The Eagles expected to win after shopping at Neiman Marcus in the offseason for players.  But not so fast… as they didn’t even make the playoffs and it was their division rival, the New York Giants, fueled by home grown talent cultivated through the draft (QB Eli Manning, WR Hakeem Nicks, DE Justin Tuck, CB Aaron Ross and others) who were hoisting the Super Bowl XLVI Lombardi trophy.

The Giants proved that building a solid nucleus through the draft with a sprinkling of long term veteran free agents, like DB Antrelle Rolle, is the greatest key to winning in the NFL rather than trying to buy a championship.  The Giants confirmed the same successful formula that the Packers, Saints, and Steelers have subscribed to for years by looking to the draft first to build their teams — did you notice all of these teams have recently won a Super Bowl.  Over the years I have always told disgruntled spend-happy fans, “Good teams fill weaknesses on their roster with solid veteran players and draft picks and bad ones try to make a splash by over spending for ‘Big Name’ free agents and usually fall apart due to non-cohesiveness”.

We will see what the 2012 Free Agency period brings as teams will not be hampered by the NFL Lockout or the accelerated rules that were in place last year.

Timeframe: Begins at 4:00 PM EST on Tuesday, March 13th and runs to April 20th at 4 PM EST for restricted free agents (last chance for teams to match offers from other teams). March 13 to July 22 for unrestricted free agents that have received a June 1 tender from their old club.

Salary Cap Information:  $120.6 Million for the leagues 32 teams.   The cap has been in place since 1994 and has helped regulate professional sports most level playfield where small market teams like the Green Bay Packers can compete with the New York Giants of the world. Even though the salary cap is back in place, there will not be a salary minimum too — in 2010, the cap was $123 million and the minimum $107.7 million. Teams may carry over any unused cap room from 2011 to 2012, but must apply to the League in writing to do so.

Remember TV revenue and profit sharing has dictated that most NFL teams should have similar money to sign or not sign free agents.  Even with the salary cap back, most teams are in good shape going into the free agency signing period due to good management decisions.   Solid teams usually made good cap decisions over the years (Cutting of high priced veterans, extending young ascending players, and signing value veterans at the league minimum: around $1M).
Number of Free Agents: The National Football League announced that there are over 400 players who are free agents of some kind including 21 free agents that were designated as “franchise” players.

Key Terms:

Restricted Free Agent – A player that has accrued six seasons of playing time and their contract has expired.  The player’s team must submit a “qualifying” offer (a salary level predetermined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players). The player can negotiate with any team through April 20th. If the restricted free agent accepts an offer sheet from a new team, his old team can match the offer and retain him because it has the “right of first refusal.” If the old team does not match the offer, it can possibly receive draft-choice compensation depending on the amount of its qualifying offer. If an offer sheet is not executed, the player’s rights revert to his old team after April 20th.

Some of the bigger name restricted free agents:

St. Louis Rams WR Danny Amendola (Tender: 2nd Rd)

Tampa Bay Bucs DL Michael Bennett (Tender: 1st rd)

New England Patriots backup QB Brian Hoyer

New York Jets OLB Aaron Maybin (Tender: Original pick)

Washington Redskins OC/OG Kory Lichtensteiger (Tender: Original pick)

Arizona Cardinals CB Greg Toler (Tender: Original pick )

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Mike Wallace (Tender: 1st rd)

Baltimore Ravens CB Lardarius Webb

Unrestricted Free Agent – A player with six or more accrued seasons whose contract has expired.  By the way, “Ancrued Season” counts when a players is listed on a team’s active/inactive, reserved/injured or reserve/physically unable to perform lists for 6  or more regular season games. A UFA is free to sign with any team through July 22 (start of training camp), with no compensation owed to their former team.  These are the guys that should be thanking Reggie White, a key marquee player who fought hard for free agency and eventually was able to sign a huge deal with the Green Bay Packers back in 1993. Over 300 players have this designation.

Some Bigger Name Unrestricted Free Agents:
TE Martellus Bennett, UFA, Dallas Cowboys

RB Cedric Benson, UFA, Cincinnati Bengals

WR Plaxico Burress, UFA, New York Jets

TE Dallas Clark, UFA, Indianapolis Colts

WR Lee Evans, UFA, Baltimore Ravens

CB Cortland Finnegan, UFA, Tennessee Titans

QB Matt Flynn, UFA, Green Bay Packers

DT Albert Haynesworth, UFA, Tampa Bay Bucs

RB Peyton Hillis, UFA, Cleveland Browns

OG Steve Hutchinson, UFA, Minnesota Vikings

WR Vincent Jackson, UFA, San Diego Chargers

S LaRon Landry, UFA, Washington Redskins

LB Curtis Lofton, UFA, Atlanta Falcons

QB Peyton Manning, UFA, Indianapolis Colts

WR Randy Moss, UFA, Tennessee Titans (Signed w/ Niners)

OG Carl Nicks, UFA, New Orleans Saints

K Neil Rackers, UFA, Houston Texans

WR Reggie Wayne, UFA, Indianapolis Colts

DE Mario Williams, UFA, Houston Texans

Transition Player – A team can designate one transition player (or one franchise player) in any given year. The player’s team must offer a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of last season at the player’s position or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. A transition player designation gives the team a first-refusal right to match within seven days any offer sheet given to the player by another team after his contract expires. If the team matches, it retains the player. If it does not match, it receives no compensation.
                   • No players were designated as a “Transition Player” this year.

Non-Exclusive Franchise Player – A team can designate one franchise player in any given year as a “Non-Exclusive Franchise” player. The salary level offered by the designating team determines whether the player is an Exclusive or Non-Exclusive franchise player. A “Non-Exclusive” franchise player is free to sign with other teams, but his team has the right to match the offer after 7 days. These types of free agents are offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of March.  A Non-Exclusive Franchised Player can solicit deals from other teams, but his current team has first-refusal rights to match within seven days any offer sheet. If the player does sign and his team matches, the old team retains the player. If old team does not match, the old team receives compensation in the form of draft picks (usually first rounders) from the new team depending on the level they were tendered at originally.  The deadline for making these designations for 2012 was march 5th. Here are the anticipated salaries for players tagged with either a franchise or transition tag.  Quarterbacks: $14.4 million (franchise); Defensive Ends:$10.6m; Cornerbacks: $10.6m; Offensive Lineman: $9.4m; Wide Receivers: $9.4m; Linebackers: $8.8m; Defensive Tackles: $7.9m; Running Backs: $7.7m; Safeties: $6.2m; Tight Ends: $5.4m; and Kickers/Punters: $2.8m

2012 “Non-Exclusive” Franchise Designated Players
DE Cliff Avril, UFA, Detroit Lions
K Connor Barth, UFA, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
WR Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs
SS Tyvon Branch, UFA, Oakland Raiders
DE Calais Campbell, UFA, Arizona Cardinals
TE Fred Davis, UFA, Washington Redskins
K Phil Dawson, UFA, Cleveland Browns
RB Matt Forte, UFA, Chicago Bears
DB Dashon Goldson, UFA, San Francisco 49ers
S Michael Griffin, UFA, Tennessee Titans
CB Brent Grimes, UFA, Atlanta Falcons
WR DeSean Jackson, UFA, Philadelphia Eagles
DE Robert Mathis, UFA, Indianapolis Colts
K Mike Nugent, UFA, Cincinnati Bengals
K Matt Prater, UFA, Denver Broncos
RB Ray Rice, RFA, Baltimore Ravens
K Josh Scobee, UFA, Jacksonville Jaguars
LB Anthony Spencer, UFA, Dallas Cowboys
P Steve Weatherford, UFA, New York Giants
WR Wes Welker, UFA, New England Patriots

Exclusive Franchise Player – A team can designate one franchise player in any given year as an “Exclusive Franchise” player. The salary level offered by the designating team determines whether the player is an Exclusive or Non-Exclusive franchise player. An “exclusive” franchise player is not free to sign with another team.  These type of players are offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of April.  Some teams use the tag as a way to initiate talks for a long-term contract, but usually players and their agents that are designated as exclusive franchise players are extremely unhappy and can cause distractions.  Their angst is due to the loss of an “upfront” signing bonus (guaranteed $$$).  Though they will be paid at the highest level of their position, players typically want the big payday that comes with being a free agent.  In the past we have seen franchised players miss all non-mandatory off season training activities and report late or holdout of training camp (ex. Seattle Seahawks Offensive Tackle Walter Jones in 2004 & 2005). The deadline for making these designations for 2012 was March 5th.

2012 “Exclusive” Franchise Designated Players
QB Drew Brees, UFA, New Orleans Saints

Veteran Released players – This type of released players used to be labeled a “cap casualty”, but with no cap that term can’t apply.  These players are usually let go before Free Agency or before their contract bonuses incentives kick-in usually around March.  Veteran “street” free agents are eligible to sign with any team as soon as they are released, thus bypassing free agency period dates.

Some Bigger Name 2012 Veteran Released Players

QB Peyton Manning, UFA, Indianapolis Colts

S Oshiomogho Atogwe, UFA, Washington Redskins

DE Luis Castillo, UFA, San Diego Chargers

LB James Farrior, UFA, Pittsburgh Steelers

CB Domonique Foxworth, UFA, Baltimore Ravens

NT Casey Hampton, UFA, Pittsburgh Steelers

OG Steve Hutchinson, UFA, Minnesota Vikings

WR Hines Ward, UFA, Pittsburgh Steelers

Notable players that signed new deals with their old team, thus avoiding free agency

Green Bay Packers TE Jermichael Finley
Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (Signed 5-year deal )
Cleveland Browns LB D’Qwell Jackson
Buffalo Bills WR Stevie Johnson
Seattle Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch
Jacksonville Jaguars CB Rashean Mathis



Lloyd Vance is the Editor  for Taking It to the House , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA).  Lloyd can be reached on Twitter @lloydvance_nfl

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