BY JIM THOMAS
Posted: Thursday, March 3, 2011

Even with a work stoppage looming tonight in the National Football League, the Rams are proceeding — at least for now — in a business-as-usual fashion. To wit, the team has made one-year tender offers to eight potential restricted free agents.

Tight end Daniel Fells, defensive tackle Gary Gibson and offensive tackle Renardo Foster were tendered at a right of first refusal level. None of the three players were drafted, so the Rams have matching rights on any outside offers. But they would not get draft pick compensation if the players received a contract offer from another club and the Rams decided not to match that offer.

Meanwhile, linebacker Chris Chamberlain, offensive guard John Greco, cornerback Justin King, wide receiver Laurent Robinson and linebacker David Vobora were tendered at their original draft position level.

That means the Rams would get draft pick compensation equal to those players' original draft position if they got a contract offer from another team and the Rams decided not to match. Greco and Robinson were drafted in the third round; King in the fourth; and Chamberlain and Vobora in the seventh.

In the case of Fells, Gibson and Robinson, the tender offers may end up being a case of meaningless paperwork. Those three players have four years or more of NFL experience. In a normal year, they would be eligible for unrestricted free agency, meaning they could sign with another team, no strings attached.

But last offseason, because it was a year with no salary cap, the minimum experience required to be eligible for unrestricted free agency was pushed up to six years. So under last year's rules Fells, Gibson and Robinson reverted back to restricted status — none of them have six years experience. The Rams filed the tender offers as if last year's rules were in place.

However, it's expected that whenever a new labor agreement is reached, the eligibility requirements for unrestricted free agency will go back to four years, meaning Fells, Gibson and Robinson would then become unrestricted.

But in the case of Chamberlain, Foster, Greco, King and Vobora, all have three years experience, so they are restricted free agents no matter what. With the exception of Foster, the four other players in this group were part of the Rams' 2008 draft class.

The Rams did not make tender offers to three other players scheduled for traditional restricted free agency (three years experience): cornerback Quincy Butler, running back Kenneth Darby and linebacker Curtis Johnson. That doesn't mean the Rams won't try to re-sign them at some point for a minimum wage. But for now, it means they are free to sign with any team — as if they were released players — once the free agency and trading period begins.

Of course, with a work stoppage expected by 11 p.m. tonight (Central time), it may be quite a while until the free agency and trading period starts. Without a work stoppage, there's no free agency or trading period, which otherwise would start Friday.

The Rams also have tendered all three exclusive rights free agents, or players with fewer than three years experience: defensive end C.J. Ah You, wide receiver Danny Amendola and linebacker Larry Grant. Cornerback Marquis Johnson, who also would have been an exclusive rights free agent, already has re-signed with the team.

If the labor agreement expires tonight, the Rams no longer will be able to negotiate with their own unrestricted free agents until there's a new agreement. The team has been talking with the agent for wide receiver Mark Clayton, but it's iffy at best that a new contract can be worked out by tonight.