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NFL free-agency restrictions limit talent pool
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/12/2010 12:00 AM

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Aside from a revamped coaching staff, the 2010 Bears figure to look a lot like the 2009 Bears, who finished 7-9.

But the same can be said for most NFL teams.

All 32 teams will find it more difficult this off-season to do much more than tweak their rosters because of the restrictive nature of free agency before the upcoming uncapped season.

Both are the result of a failure by the owners and the NFL Players Association to achieve a new collective-bargaining agreement. Although the two sides have until March 5 to reach a new accord, no one involved in the early, contentious discussions believes they are close to an agreement.

The absence of a new CBA means that instead of players becoming unrestricted free agents after four years of service, they now need six years, which will drastically reduce the number of players on the open market.

The lack of a new CBA also means there is neither a salary cap nor a salary floor in 2010. Last year teams could spend up to $128 million on player salaries and were required to spend at least $108 million.

High-income teams such as the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins may take this opportunity to go on a buying spree, but they won't be bidding against the Bears for the limited number of unrestricted players.

The Bears also won't be able to make much of a splash in the draft, considering they don't have a pick until the third round.

So, even with new offensive coordinator Mike Martz coming aboard, the Bears' personnel won't change drastically.

"Our roster is pretty well set," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "We don't have the first two picks in the draft. And free agency potentially will be very limited. It's not like we won't look for players like we do every year, but we're not going into this thinking we have to have an overhaul with our offense.

"I feel like the nucleus of what (Martz) needs to make his offense work, it was very clear to me that he felt very comfortable with our offensive personnel."

While there won't be as many unrestricted players in the marketplace, it will be easier this off-season for teams to retain their own players, specifically the four- and five-year veterans who are now restricted. Those players can be easily retained by their teams if they receive tender offers.

Teams must submit their tender offers to the league on or before March 4, otherwise the player becomes an unrestricted free agent.

But in almost every case, teams will be able to hold on to desirable players by tendering offers that won't break the bank.

For instance, Bears linebacker Nick Roach has accrued three years of service, so if the Bears tender him at $1.684 million, they would receive a second-round pick from any team that signs him to a better deal.

If the Bears tender Roach at $2.396 million and he signs with another team, they get a first-round pick in return. The highest tender for a three-year player ($3.043 million) brings compensation of a first- and third-round draft choice if the player signs with a different team.

The lowest of the four tender levels is "original draft-pick compensation."

For instance, linebacker Jamar Williams is a restricted free agent with four years of accrued service. If the Bears tendered him at $1.176 million and he signed elsewhere, their compensation would be a fourth-round pick, since that's where they drafted Williams.

Compensation for four-year players is approximately $100,000 more at each level than for three-year players, and the levels for five-year players are approximately an additional $100,000.

Restricted free agents have until April 15 to sign offer sheets from other NFL teams, and their original teams have seven days to match any offer and keep them.

Only four Bears will be unrestricted free agents: defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, linebackers Pisa Tinoisamoa and Darrell McClover and running back Adrian Peterson.

The Bears are most interested in retaining Tinoisamoa and Ogunleye. Tinoisamoa missed most of last season with knee injuries, which should discourage many teams from pursuing him.

But Ogunleye, 32, could attract interest because of his solid pass-rush ability, despite his age, and the Bears are unlikely to get into a bidding war over him.

BEARS UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

LB Darrell McClover

DE Adewale Ogunleye

RB Adrian Peterson

OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa

BEARS RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Pos. Name Yrs.

DE Mark Anderson 4

S Josh Bullocks 5

NT Dusty Dvoracek 4

DB Danieal Manning 4

LB Nick Roach 3

LB Jamar Williams 4

TENDER LEVELS FOR RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

5-year players

Compensation *Tender

1st and 3rd round $3.268

1st round $2.621

2nd round $1.809

orig. draft pick $1.226

4-year players

1st and 3rd round $3.168

1st round $2.521

2nd round $1.759

orig. draft pick $1.176

3-year players

1st and 3rd round $3.043

1st round $2.396

2nd round $1.684

orig. draft pick $1.101

*Tender amounts in millions of dollars