The Carolina Panthers did not elect to use the franchise tag on Charles Johnson or DeAngelo Williams Tuesday. That does not mean they’re simply turning them out into the wilds of free agency, with little chance to retain their stars emerging and established.
Johnson and Williams will be part of a large class of players with four years experience or more who under the old rules would have been unrestricted free agents. If a collective bargaining agreement is reached soon, they may still.
But until a CBA is reached, they’ll be treated the way players such as Thomas Davis and Richard Marshall were a year ago, with restricted free agent tenders. RFAs can shop themselves on the open market, but their original team has the option to match any deal they’d find, and get draft pick compensation if they choose not to match.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney would not comment on the process, but multiple team and league sources said the intent is clear. The Panthers will tag Johnson and Williams and a number of other players before the March 3 deadline to provide themselves some degree of cover until more is known about the economic landscape of the league.
It’s a complicated process, and even those about to implement them are still working through the details. An agent whose client received one Wednesday said it didn’t specify dollars, only that they were tendering him at a specific level of compensation (original draft round, second, first or first-and-third).
In short, the tenders are a way to squat on the rights of players with four and five years of service time at rates lower than what they’d ordinarily make. Players with six years, such as Davis, would still be unrestricted in any event.
“I honestly don’t think anyone knows what it means,” said one veteran agent who represents a number of such potential RFAs. “What I’m telling my guys is we’re pretty much going to be frozen until there’s a CBA.”
The tenders will become moot with a new labor deal, since neither side expects any new deal to drastically change the requirements for UFA status (four years). But if the negotiations drag into the late summer or fall, the tenders and the restrictions they provide could come into play.
That would be of enormous benefit to a team with a coaching staff and roster in transition. They’d be able to slap a tender on players such as quarterback Matt Moore, tight ends Jeff King and Dante Rosario, defensive tackle Derek Landri and linebacker James Anderson and have some semblance of hope of retaining them. Even Marshall, a disgruntled RFA a year ago, could be tendered again despite the fact he’s not expecting the Panthers to offer him a long-term deal.
If a deal is reached soon, none of that would matter. But considering no one knows what to expect from the labor negotiations, the Panthers intent to tender Johnson, Williams and other signals at least a bit of cover, instead of the rush for the door some expected.