Unrestricted free agents draw much of the headlines this time of year, but for the Ravens, the lesser known restricted free agency has the potential to be a headache this year.
To review, restricted free agents must be tendered offers from their current team by March 12; once that is done, any other team can sign a restricted free agent to an offer sheet, and the current team has a week to match the offer. If they lose the player, the original team receives compensation based on the tender.
The Ravens can assign any one of four tenders to their restricted free agents: a first-round tender (worth $2.87 million), a second-round tender ($2.02 million), a low-round tender based on the player's original draft selection round ($1.323 million) or a right-of-first-refusal tender ($1.323) for a player who was not orinally drafted. Granted, this isn't as much money as these players would make as unrestricted free agents, but for the Ravens, who are up against the salary cap, they need to be careful with their dollars.
The Ravens have six restricted free agents -- long snapper Morgan Cox, tight end Ed Dickson, offensive lineman Ramon Harewood, defensive lineman Arthur Jones, tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver David Reed.
Seeing what tenders are offered shows as clearly as anything how a player's stock has risen or fallen since his draft days.
For example, Dennis Pitta was a fourth-round draft pick. If the Ravens were to assign Pitta an original, or low, round tender for $1.323 million, another team could make a sweeter offer. If the Ravens lost Pitta, they would receive a fourth-round draft pick in return. That doesn't seem like much of a return for someone who has developed into a No. 1 tight end, not to mention one of the best friends of the team's newly-minted, long-term, franchise quarterback.
USA Today's Mike Garafolo points out that the market for restricted free agents has been mild lately, but that could change this season. He points to Pitta and Jones as two of the five most likely restricted free agents to field competing offer sheets.
Of Pitta, Garafolo writes, "If the former fourth-round pick gets tendered at a second-round level, he could get a few nibbles."
The Ravens could assign a first-round tender to Pitta, and teams would probably be far less willing to lose a first-round pick in exchange for Pitta. But a first-round tender would cost the Ravens nearly another million dollars, and they need all the cap room they can get. It becomes a delicate balancing act indeed.
Jones is another player who has seemingly risen far above his original draft stock of the fifth round. Garofolo mentions the Saints and Eagles as two teams who might jump at the chance to sign Jones if he were offered a low tender, meaning they would be getting him in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick.
Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun writes, " an original-round tender could mean losing Jones. So, the Ravens likely have no choice but to go with a second-round tender."
All restricted free agency tenders must be offered by 3:59 p.m. on March 12.