Todd Washington (75) saw action at center last season but could be the team's primary reserve at all three interior line positions this fall
As one of the 40-plus players participating in voluntary workouts at Tampa Bay Buccaneers headquarters this April, Todd Washington is taking care of business on the field.
On Wednesday, after another 90-minute session, he stopped by Director of Football Administration John Idzik's office to finalize a piece of off-field business.
Washington, who became a restricted free agent on March 2 at the beginning of the league's free agency period, accepted the Buccaneers' one-year tender offer and officially re-signed with the team on Wednesday. Like Tampa Bay's three remaining restricted free agents – Rabih Abdullah, James Cannida and Brian Kelly – Washington was, as of Monday, only allowed to negotiate with the Buccaneers.
If last year's starter at right guard, unrestricted free agent Frank Middleton, does not return and second-year player Cosey Coleman steps into the starting lineup, Washington will be the Buccaneers' top reserve at three spots heading into 2001: right and left guard and center.
Restricted free agents are players whose contracts have expired and who have accrued three years of NFL experience. Like unrestricted free agents, they are free to negotiate a deal with any team in the league; however, their original teams retain a right to match that offer or, in many cases, accept draft-pick compensation from the teams that sign the players away. In Washington's case, the Buccaneers would have received a fourth-round pick in this weekend's draft if he had signed elsewhere and the team had chosen not to match the offer.
To retain that right-of-first-refusal, a team must extend an offer sheet to a restricted free agent before the free agency period begins, or he becomes in effect an unrestricted free agent. The size of the offer determines what the compensation will be. In turn, that gives the player, like Washington, the option of accepting that deal as it was offered and becoming an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season.
Because the compensation for losing such a player applies to this year's draft, the open market period for restricted free agents ended on Monday, while unrestricted free agents can continue to shop their services until July 22. After Monday, Washington had the options of accepting his tender offer or working with the team on a longer contract. The first choice appears to be more common. All seven of the Buccaneers who went into restricted free agency last spring eventually accepted their one-year tender offers, including Ronde Barber, Patrick Hape and Frank Middleton.
None of the Bucs' restricted free agents in 2001 signed an offer sheet with another team, and that is also quite common. Only four restricted free agents switched teams last year in the entire league, and only 37 have done so in eight years under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.
This offseason, only two restricted free agents have changed teams to this point: QB Ray Lucas, from the New York Jets to Miami, and RB Michael Sellers, from Washington to Cleveland. However, decisions remain on three players who have received offers in the past week. Pittsburgh RB Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala earned an offer from New England, St. Louis WR Tony Horne was offered a deal by Kansas City and San Francisco K Wade Richey was courted by San Diego.
Pittsburgh, St. Louis and San Francisco have until Friday to determine whether or not they wish to match those respective offers. While the Rams and 49ers would not receive any draft-pick compensation, the Steelers would get a sixth-round pick from the Patriots if Fuamatu-Ma'afala switches teams.
Unsigned restricted free agents like Abdullah, Cannida and Kelly are free to continue working out with their teams until training camp, so there is not necessarily an accelerated timetable on these players' signings. Those three have been participating in the voluntary workouts along with Washington.