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One catch: Doug Baldwin’s restricted free agency

By Danny O’Neil

Friday is the last day Doug Baldwin can sign with another team as a free agent.

After that he can’t sign with any team other than Seattle, but that deadline doesn’t guarantee when Baldwin will sign with Seattle.

49ers-Seahawks-Footba Rank
Doug Baldwin has yet to sign his second-round tender, which amounts to a one-year deal worth $2.187 million. (AP)

If you can make sense of that, well, you can boast an understanding of something that not everyone does: restricted free agency in the NFL.

That is Baldwin’s status right now, a player with three years of NFL experience who was tendered a one-year qualifying offer from Seattle. That attached two stipulations to Baldwin’s free agency.

First, while Baldwin was free to negotiate with other teams and even sign an offer sheet, the Seahawks held the right to match the terms of that offer and thereby retain Baldwin. Secondly, if the Seahawks declined to match the offer, they would receive a second-round pick as compensation from the team signing Baldwin.

The fact that any team acquiring Baldwin would have to surrender a second-round pick has had a predictably chilling effect on Baldwin’s free agency, and the question is no longer whether he will sign elsewhere, but what will happen when he doesn’t.

There are two options. The first: sign the one-year, $2.2 million offer the Seahawks tendered him and buckle up for a fourth year with Seattle. The second: Choose not to sign it in hopes that – coupled with the uncertainty of his availability for 2014 – that helps negotiate a longer-term contract with the team.

Once Friday passes, the only leverage Baldwin has left in negotiating is the threat of withholding his services from the Seahawks. By not signing the qualifying offer, he would not be under contract and thereby not obligated to report to mandatory offseason training or even to training camp.

Except Baldwin is already participating in the voluntary portion of the Seahawks’ offseason training, having signed a waiver to participate, which makes it hard to imagine he’d choose to suddenly start missing mandatory training. And all that adds up to the likelihood that Friday’s deadline is more like a procedural step than anything else.

Baldwin won’t be eligible to sign elsewhere, but it has been apparent for quite some he won’t be signing anywhere other than Seattle. Now the only question is when he’ll sign.