Mailbag: A note on RFA tenders

With NFL free agency set to begin Tuesday, David of Colorado Springs brings up a fair point: "Why haven't we heard much about RFA tenders this year?"

David specifically wants to know how it relates to the Detroit Lions, who need to shave more than $11 million in cap space before Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, but it's worth taking a broader look at what is almost always a drama-less segment of free agency.

RFAs -- "Restricted Free Agents" -- are players who have accrued three years' experience in the NFL. They are eligible for a new contract, but teams can restrict their access by requiring draft-pick compensation for them to move on and receiving the right to match any deal a player receives. Rare is the case when a third-year player is valuable enough to merit a lucrative contract and a draft pick, and a result, RFAs usually don't change teams.

So the only news when it comes to RFAs is typically whether they were issued a tender or not. The level of the tender is mostly an issue of the salary cap.

In 2012, according to NFL.com, there are three levels of RFA tenders. A player who requires a first-round compensation will get a tender (and cap number) worth $2.742 million, according to NFL.com. Second-round tenders are worth $1.927 million in cap and cash, and tenders that include right to match only are worth $1.26 million.

The Lions have two significant RFAs: Linebacker DeAndre Levy and defensive tackle Sammie Hill. You would think both would get at least a second-round tender. Would another team give up a second-round pick to acquire either player? Probably not, and every cap dollar will matter this year to the Lions. But they could ensure both players' return beyond a doubt by giving them first-round tenders at a combined additional cost of $1.63 million.

The NFL typically announces tender levels on the day free agency begins, and we'll pass along what we find out before then. Other key RFAs in the NFC North include Chicago Bears running back Kahlil Bell, Minnesota Vikings running back Lorenzo Booker and Vikings linebacker/special-teams ace Kenny Onatolu.