Most of the league’s notable unrestricted free agents come off the board in mid-March, within days – or hours – of officially hitting the open market. However, the process for restricted free agents can often drag out a little longer.
Over the last several weeks, players who received restricted free agent tenders from their respective teams have, for the most part, simply signed them. Players like Ravens safety Will Hill, Jets defensive tackle Damon Harrison, Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, and – most recently – Seahawks wideout Jermaine Kearse will return to their clubs for at least one more season, earning either $1.542MM (the low-end tender) or $2.356MM (the second-round tender). Then, if they don’t work out a longer-term deal, they’ll be unrestricted free agents in 2016.
Not every restricted free agent has simply signed his tender. Lions defensive end George Johnson signed an offer sheet with the Buccaneers, and Packers safety Sean Richardson inked one with the Raiders. After disputing the terms of his offer sheet with the Bucs, the Lions eventually let Johnson go to Tampa Bay, getting a draft pick in the deal for their troubles. Green Bay, meanwhile, matched Oakland’s offer for Richardson, bringing him back to the team.
One restricted free agent, Eagles running back Chris Polk, had his RFA tender rescinded by the team, allowing him the freedom to sign with another team — Polk and his new club then wouldn’t have to worry about Philadelphia matching an offer sheet. The running back quickly found a new home with the Texans, just a couple days after the Eagles withdrew their one-year offer.
The deadline for restricted free agents to sign an offer sheet with another team came and went last month (April 24), but two players appear to still be unsigned, and both of them are Browns — safety Tashaun Gipson, who received a second-round tender, and defensive tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, who got a low-end tender, have yet to sign their contracts for 2015.
There’s no indication that Kitchen is unhappy with his situation. In fact, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reported two weeks ago (via Twitter) that the defensive lineman intended to sign his tender. No confirmation has come from the team or Kitchen’s camp since then, but it’s possible he signed his tender and it has yet to be announced — it’s also possible he’ll make it official any day now.
Gipson’s case isn’t quite so simple. The 24-year-old has started 26 games for the Browns in the last two seasons, racking up 146 tackles during that stretch and showing a knack for coming up with big plays — he has grabbed 11 interceptions during the last two seasons, returning two of them for touchdowns. Despite playing just 11 games in 2014, Gipson earned a Pro Bowl nod.
After an impressive first three seasons, Gipson was reportedly less than thrilled to receive a second-round tender from the Browns, and didn’t report to the club’s voluntary offseason program last month. Head coach Mike Pettine indicated that the club is “very optimistic” about working something out with Gipson, but the team has most of the leverage here, at least for the 2015 season.
Since the deadline has passed for Gipson to negotiate with other teams, if he wants to play in ’15 and earn his $2.356MM, he’ll have to sign his tender with the Browns at some point. In Philadelphia, Polk was expendable after the Eagles signed a pair of running backs in free agency; for the Browns, Gipson is a key contributor, so they’re not about to withdraw his RFA tender.
A longer-term deal is also a possibility for Gipson and the Browns, but the team isn’t under any pressure to work something out with the safety. According to Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, Browns sources don’t expect Gipson to be on the roster is 2016, believing that he has priced himself out of the team’s range. That asking price could eventually come down, but for now it appears Cleveland is simply satisfied to welcome Gipson back to the roster for 2015 if and when he signs his RFA tender, with no guarantees beyond this season.