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RFA tenders could be league’s next big power move

Philadelphia Eagles vs  New York Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 19: Kevin Boss #89 of the New York Giants scores a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during their game on December 19, 2010 at The New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

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In the near future, players with three, four, and five years of NFL experience are expected to be notified by teams that they’ve been “tendered” as restricted free agents.

In terms of player volume, it’s a major diversion from the norm.

Per traditional collective bargaining rules, only free agents with three accrued seasons are restricted. Adding four- and five-year veterans creates the largest restricted free agent pool in NFL history. Upwards of 300 players are affected.

Restricted free agent tenders are completely non-binding, one-year contract proposals usually in the $1 million to $2 million range. Tenders indicate that clubs intend to keep these players into training camp. But the players are guaranteed nothing.

Marquee talents since as four-year Vikings receiver Sidney Rice, five-year Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali, and four-year Giants tight end Kevin Boss had planned to capitalize on the lucrative, unrestricted free agent market with long-term contracts containing $10-14 million guaranteed.

With no salary cap and CBA, these players are no longer in line to strike it rich. They could even be cut in the fall.

“The uncertainty is unsettling,” said agent Scott Smith of X-A-M Sports, which represents Boss and Falcons running back Jason Snelling, another unrestricted-turned-restricted free agent. “Not only do players not know when and if there will be free agency, a good number of them don’t even know what their free agency status currently is.”

What makes the situation particularly troubling for players is that tenders may mean absolutely nothing. The tenders’ value depends entirely on terms set forth in the next CBA. The owners and NFLPA seem to be nowhere near an agreement.

“I’ve been following things closely,” said Smith of the progress of Collective Bargaining Agreement discussions. “And I have absolutely no idea how close the two sides are to reaching an agreement.”

In all likelihood, the tenders will be worthless.

Perhaps it’s all psychological. NFL teams are well aware of the tenders’ tenuous-at-best value. So are owners instructing their front offices to apply them as a means of disrupting the players union? Could the increased uncertainty shatter the NFLPA’s mettle, potentially causing the players to cave at the bargaining table?

“Restricting four- and five-year players is clearly in the teams’ best interests,” Smith observed. “They would have plenty of reasons to attempt to do it.”

ESPN’s Adam Schefter recently cited a plugged-in NFL person as saying, “This CBA has no chance. The owners don’t want a deal.”

Without contracts for 2011, these “tendered” restricted free agents, more than anyone else, are left twisting in the wind.