Rather than acquire Welker in the conventional manner, by signing him to a restricted free-agent offer sheet and waiting a week to see whether the Dolphins would match the deal, the Patriots instead struck a trade. They cleverly offered an additional seventh-round choice, beyond the second-round compensation tag Welker already carried, and the two sides avoided the usually inherent red tape.
Whether other teams will be so creative in approaching restricted free agents remains to be seen, but there almost certainly will be an increasingly active market for the three-year veterans in the coming days.
Securing the services of restricted free agents historically has been a difficult undertaking with the current system. In the 14 previous years of free agency, only 55 restricted free agents changed teams. Four restricted free agents changed teams in 2006.
The addition this year of another level of compensation -- with the league adding a second-round tier -- will give some teams pause as they consider signing any of the players tendered at that level. Twenty-three of the 94 restricted free agents who received qualifying offers, in fact, received the second-round level.
Still, there are enough intriguing restricted free agents to stir some action, and here is a look at 12 of them (all statistics are from team records):
• FS Gibril Wilson, New York Giants (compensation: second round): He's been the Giants' most consistent performer in the secondary since coming into the NFL three years ago as a fifth-round draft choice. In fact, it's surprising that New York didn't make him a higher qualifying offer. He has some definite limitations in coverage, but is effective playing down in the box and is an excellent blitzer out of the secondary. His résumé is reflective of his all-around abilities: He has 267 tackles, six sacks, seven interceptions, 12 passes defensed and six forced fumbles in 39 appearances.
• CB Jason David, Indianapolis (compensation: fourth round): Skeptics always cite his lack of size (5-foot-8, 180 pounds) and pedestrian long speed. But the guy was good enough to start all 20 games for the Super Bowl XLI champions in 2006, counting playoff contests, owns 43 regular-season starts in three seasons, and won't turn 25 until mid-June. He has eight interceptions and 26 passes defensed for his career, possesses good football instincts, and is well-schooled in the Cover 2 scheme.
• WR Ernest Wilford, Jacksonville (compensation: second round): He is a long, angular receiver who doesn't run very well but knows how to use his body and is a consistent threat in the red zone. He'll always struggle against tight press coverages, but does possess some sneaky quickness up the boundary and will make the acrobatic catch. He owns a 15.4-yard career average and has scored a touchdown on every 8.3 receptions. The downside is that he's probably never going to be more than a No. 3 wideout, so some teams won't want to invest a second-round choice on him.
• WLB Demorrio Williams, Atlanta (compensation: second round): A classic runaround defender who struggles to take on blockers and will get washed out at the point of attack because of a lack of bulk. But his quickness permits him to chase down a lot of plays from the backside. An active defender and playmaker who has to play the weakside spot. He has 26 career starts and 272 tackles, and looks like a player who could collect six to eight sacks per year if he is used the right way.
• WR D.J. Hackett, Seattle (compensation: second round): Until last season, he was known principally as one of the NFL's top special-teams performers. But injuries in 2006 forced the Seahawks to play him more at wide receiver and he responded with 45 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns. If a team believes he can continue to develop as a No. 3 wideout, it might not be unreasonable to sacrifice a second-round choice to grab him.
• OT Stacy Andrews, Cincinnati (compensation: second round): Cincinnati was probably wise to make him a second-round qualifying offer, because had the Bengals placed a lesser value on him, some franchises might have been more tempted to try to pry away the 2004 fourth-rounder. The younger brother of Pro Bowl guard Shawn Andrews of the Philadelphia Eagles, he hasn't played a lot in three years, with only 31 appearances and three starts. But he has great size (6-7, 342) and the Cincinnati coaches speak with awe of his athleticism. A well-kept secret, but the Bengals feel he can be a star someday.
• SLB Brandon Chillar, St. Louis (compensation: fourth round): A nice combination of size and strength, he can stack people at the line of scrimmage but also has some pursuit skills. He earned a starting job on the strong side in 2006 and registered 67 tackles and two sacks in 14 starts. He looks like an ascending player. He doesn't turn 25 until October and already has 26 starts on his résumé.
• DT Shaun Smith, Cincinnati (compensation: none): Just a big, ol' 325-pound anchor who doesn't move all that well but who won't be moved, either. His numbers will never be very impressive, as evidenced by just 44 tackles and no sacks in 34 games, but he will eat up blockers inside and allow linebackers to flow to the football. Occasionally, he'll even get a little penetration. He can be a solid No. 3 tackle in some team's rotation.
• WR Terrance Copper, New Orleans (compensation: none): A do-it-all player who excels on special teams and is a better wide receiver than people think. Coach Sean Payton demonstrated a lot of faith in him last season, especially when Joe Horn was injured. Copper made a lot of big plays for the Saints, catching 23 passes for 385 yards and three touchdowns. He can also return kicks and will play on the coverage units. The kind of solid, serviceable role player every team needs to have around.
• DT Tim Anderson, Buffalo (compensation: third round): A blue-collar run stuffer with good (not great) size, but a guy who will hold his own inside and whose motor is always revving. He's not especially athletic, but uses his hands pretty well and will keep on coming. He has 18 starts, all in the past two seasons, and though his numbers aren't dazzling (74 tackles, one sack), he's solid.
• TE/FB Richard Owens, Minnesota (compensation: none): He can line up at tight end, H-back or fullback and will play on special teams, too. At 270 pounds, he packs a wallop when he makes contact and he hits well on the move. He has begun to develop his receiving skills and has 16 catches for 132 yards and one score.
• OT Kevin Sampson, Kansas City (compensation: seventh round): He still needs plenty of work in a lot of areas but, in six starts in 2006, showed some flashes. He has good size and athleticism, and given that there's an upside, he might be worth a seventh-round pick for some team willing to be patient with him. He's only 25, so he has some time to grow into a player.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.