Before the Cardinals shift their attention towards free agency on March 17th, they must determine the futures of their three restricted free agents.
What is a RFA and the tender?
A restricted free agent is a player with three accrued NFL seasons with an expired contract. A season can be categorized as accrued when the player has played in at least six or more games.
The four kinds of RFA tenders include first-round, second-round, original-round, and right of first refusal.
Definitions of the tenders below were pulled from Pro Football Network.
- First-round tender: The greater of $4.766 million or 110 percent of the player’s 2020 salary. If the offer sheet is not matched, the original team receives the new team’s first-round selection in the upcoming draft.
- Second-round tender: The greater of $3.384 million or 110 percent of the player’s 2020 salary. If the offer sheet is not matched, the original team receives the new team’s second-round selection in the upcoming draft.
- Original-round tender: The greater of $2.33 million or 110 percent of the player’s 2020 salary. If the offer sheet is not matched, the original team receives a draft pick equivalent to where the player was originally selected.
- Right of first refusal tender: $2.33 million. If the original team declines to match the offer sheet, then there is no draft pick compensation in association.
If a restricted free agent is not given a tender, they automatically become unrestricted free agents at the start of the new league year on March 17th.
Last year, the Cardinals placed a second-round tender on kicker Zane Gonzalez, which was worth $3.259 million, instead of offering him a long-term deal to see if he could replicate the success he had in 2019.
After having a career year in 2019 converting 31-of-35 of his field goal attempts, he made only 16-of-22 the year after. In what was treated as a prove it contract, Gonzalez did not deliver.
In the Cardinals case this offseason, their restricted free agents are Dennis Gardeck, Trent Sherfield, and Zeke Turner.
All three of these players went undrafted and were signed by the Cardinals in 2018.
Will the Cardinals tender them?
EDGE Dennis Gardeck
Gardeck was one amazing find for the Cardinals. The undrafted free agent out of Sioux Falls dominated on special teams since joining the team in 2018. He was named a team captain of special teams this past season but became so much more. He made a switch to outside linebacker and became one of the best pass rushers on the team.
In 79 pass rush snaps, he generated 18 pressures and had seven sacks. His 311 special teams snaps was second-most on the the Cardinals in 2020 and his 71.1 PFF special teams grade was sixth best. Though he tore his ACL towards the end of last season, durability was never a concern prior to this injury.
With Haason Reddick and Markus Golden scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, the Cardinals will want to bring Gardeck back. Because he began his career an an undrafted free agent and pass rushers are highly sought after, the Cardinals will want to give him something higher than an original round tender for more security.
WR Trent Sherfield
Sherfield has been one of the Cardinals core special teams players over the last three seasons. His 220 special teams snaps was fifth-most on the team and his 71.2 PFF special teams grade is right above Gardeck’s as fourth on the Cardinals.
He is a very capable wide receiver that does his job well when his number is called. The Vanderbilt product has an excellent blend of size (6’1’’ 219lbs) and speed. He is one receiver that I really wished the Cardinals utilized more within their offense. He has 28 receptions, 340 receiving yards, and one touchdown in his career. He had five catches and a team-high 77 receiving yards in the first start of his NFL career in Week 14 against the Lions in 2018.
As we saw with the Browns and choosing not to give a tender to their special teams ace Tavierre Thomas, it will be difficult to pay $2.33 million to a player that has been limited to special teams.
With the salary cap set to drop, the #Browns don't plan to tender CB and special teams ace Tavierre Thomas, source said. Thomas would've been a restricted free agent. Instead, he'll hit the market. Look for similar moves elsewhere.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 5, 2021
Chase Edmonds refers to his close friendship with Trent Sherfield and Christian Kirk as the “three amigos”.
LB Ezekiel “Zeke” Turner
Just like the Dennis Gardeck and Trent Sherfield, Turner has been a quality special teams player since joining the Cardinals as a rookie. He played the most special teams snaps (344) on the Cardinals this past season and had the second-best special teams grade (86.4).
He had two blocked punts and a 26-yard reception thrown by punter Andy Lee on special teams.
Considering he is coming off a breakout season, Zeke Turner is a player the Cardinals should bring back. The original round tender is still a lot for a special teams player. The Broncos tendered Alexander Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, and Tim Patrick. All of these players started or played significant snaps on either the offense or defense.
I expect the Cardinals to give a second-round tender to team captain Dennis Gardeck in hopes of securing him for the 2021 season. As for Trent Sherfield and Zeke Turner, the Cardinals cannot re-sign every player they have. Especially in this case for primary special teams players, it is difficult to imagine any team willing to pay a lot for this position in a reduced salary cap year.
If neither are offered a restricted free agent tender, that does not mean they will not be back. Cardinals might let them test free agency but not before expressing interest in potentially re-signing them.