Is there a secondary free-agent market still out there?
That is the question being asked as teams head into next week's spring owners meetings after more than 125 players were involved in free-agent signings, trades or restricted player tags.
Earlier this month, I predicted that teams could turn their attention to restricted free agents. So is this the direction clubs will be heading in?
There are a decent number of free agents still on the market, but the players still floating out there have to realize the prices and values are falling. Terrell Owens is apparently still looking for a $5 million per year deal, not yet realizing that ship has left port. Former Tennessee Titans center Kevin Mawae and I had a conversation about his free-agent situation, and he wonders if teams view the president of the NFL Players Association as a guy to avoid. Mawae is still waiting for the phone to ring with an interested team on the other line. Mawae could still start for a number of teams and instantly make those teams better.
Here is a short list of players who should be signed, as long as they understand the present market:
1. Darren Sharper
2. Kevin Mawae
3. Raheem Brock
4. Willie Parker
5. Greg Ellis
6. Damione Lewis
7. Akin Ayodele
8. Justin Fargas
9. Na'il Diggs
10. Joey Porter
11. Deon Grant
12. Charles Grant
As teams start to solidify their draft boards, a number of restricted free agents are going to become the targets of some personnel moves around the league. One prominent NFL offensive line coach told me this week that there really aren't more than three offensive tackle prospects that he gave a first-round grade in his evaluations. Another clue that coaches and personnel people may become less excited about the offensive linemen in the draft was the quick signing of four restricted free-agent tackles who only had a right of first refusal and no draft compensation. Jonathan Scott left Buffalo for Pittsburgh, Adam Terry left Baltimore for Indianapolis and Rob Petitti and Khalif Barnes re-signed with their respective clubs (Carolina and Oakland). Still, there are bigger restricted free-agent players to sign. Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither may be the prize of the restricted free-agent class.
If that prominent NFL offensive line coach is correct about the offensive tackle draft class, then giving up a late first-round pick for Gaither would be a no-brainer. I asked that coach to stack the offensive tackles in the draft against the 23-year-old Gaither, and Gaither was second only to Oklahoma State's Russell Okung. A case could be made that Arizona, along with a few other teams picking at the bottom of the first round, would benefit greatly from getting Gaither.
The recent trade of quarterback Charlie Whitehurst from San Diego to Seattle is an interesting case that could provide a clue as to how future deals might get done. Whitehurst was a restricted free agent with a third-round tender. Whitehurst could only bring one offer back to the Chargers, and if the team matched that offer, Whitehurst would be with the team for the length of the contract and remain stuck behind Philip Rivers and Billy Volek on the depth chart.
The Chargers didn't want to see a deal with a poison pill -- language that states something that is extremely difficult for a team to accept in a deal to retain a player -- and wind up with a third-round pick. So, the Chargers and Seahawks worked out a trade. In essence, the Chargers got more compensation than a third-round pick for Whitehurst. The Chargers swapped spots in the second round -- from No. 60 to No. 40, which equates to 200 points on the draft value chart (which, by the way, is the value of the 14th pick in the third round). The Seahawks also threw their third-round pick for 2011 into the deal, which at this point can only be valued as a middle pick of the round since no one knows where anyone will end up a year from now. That adds another 190 points to the deal. Add up all the compensation and the Chargers get 390 points, which is like getting an extra second-round pick for Whitehurst.
You may not agree with the Seahawks giving up that much for a quarterback who has never thrown a pass in an NFL regular-season game, but it may be a blueprint for other restricted free-agent deals. By the way, another thing to consider is that the Seahawks could be positioning themselves to go after a restricted free agent requiring second-round compensation. If they intend to give away the second-round pick in such a signing, then it doesn't matter whether it's the 40th overall pick or the 60th. Then, all of a sudden, it might very well look like they got Whitehurst for a 2011 third-round pick.
For any teams looking for proven young players, the restricted free-agent list -- especially when the compensation is less than a first-round pick -- will be inviting as the league closes in on the April 15 deadline to make an offer for restricted free agents. The money spent to sign Whitehurst may also say something about the quarterback draft class, and you would have to wonder where Jason Campbell (second-round compensation), Tarvaris Jackson (third-round compensation), or even Kyle Orton (first-round compensation) stack up against that draft class.
I asked one secondary coach to place Carolina Panthers cornerback Richard Marshall (second-round compensation) among those players in this year's draft class, and he placed Marshall fourth on the list. That puts Marshall at the top of the second round.
So, the question becomes, if your team has a late second-round pick and may not see even the seventh-best corner in the draft, why not put an offer in for the 26-year-old Marshall, who had 88 tackles and four interceptions last year?