Thursday will mark the end of the third full week of the 2017 NFL league year and as you’ve probably already noticed by now, free agent signings have slowed to a drip. As far as quality free agents that currently remain on the market, most of them are of the restricted variety and thus most must be acquired by giving up a draft pick of some kind.
While it doesn’t look as though New England Patriots restricted free agent cornerback Malcolm Butler will be asked to sign an offer sheet in the coming weeks, there’s still some rumblings that he could ultimately be traded. That, however, would require him signing his second-round tender that he received from the Patriots ahead of the start of the league year for that to happen.
The Pittsburgh Steelers currently have two of their own tendered restricted free agents in Ross Cockrell and tackle Chris Hubbard. Both received low-level tenders of $1.797 million and the only difference between the two is that Cockrell’s is termed an original-round version being as he is a former draft pick. In short, should another team want to sign Cockrell to an offer sheet, they would be required to give the Steelers their fourth-round draft pick this year should Pittsburgh ultimately decline to match the deal.
As for Hubbard, a former undrafted free agent, the Steelers wouldn’t receive any compensation should he sign an offer sheet with another team and the Steelers declined to match it.
With three weeks of the new league year now almost behind us, one can easily speculate that Cockrell and Hubbard won’t receive any offer sheets from other teams. With that said, the deadline this year for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets from other teams is April 21, which is still a little more than three weeks away. As always, restricted free agents can sign their team-issued tenders at any time.
During the 2013 offseason, former Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was a tendered restricted free agent and the Patriots ultimately signed him to an offer sheet on April 10, a good four weeks into that league year. The Steelers ultimately decided to match the one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet Sanders signed with the Patriots.
Several wrote that the Steelers gambled when they chose not to give Cockrell a second-round tender. Personally, I never viewed it that way and especially being as this year’s draft class is deep at the cornerback position. Oh, and Cockrell is not Butler. Additionally, the Steelers always have the right to match whatever offer sheet Cockrell might ultimately sign and if reasonable, they would more than likely do just that.
Remember, April 21 is the deadline this year when it comes to restricted free agents and offer sheets and by then we’ll know for sure if indeed Cockrell and Hubbard will both be back in training camp with the Steelers later in the summer. I bet they will be and have said as much right from the start.