As the Portland Trail Blazers contemplate matching offers from restricted free agents Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard, and Maurice Harkless, here's a clarification on how those offers affect the salary cap. Note this provides a correction from earlier explanations.
1. A restricted free agent has the right to negotiate and accept an offer from another team. They can negotiate with many teams but they can only officially accept one offer.
2. Once the free agent signs that offer sheet, the Trail Blazers have three days to match it. If they do not match it within that time, their right of first refusal ends at the free agent goes to the other team.
Here's where it gets tricky and where we need the correction...
3. In order to retain the potential to sign the free agent, both teams must preserve enough legal cap space to be able to make the deal work during those three days (i.e. they must retain "x" amount of usable, unspent cap space until the player actually fills that space for one of the two teams).
For the team making the offer, that means clearing actual space and not spending it on other free agents.
The team receiving the offer can still go over the cap to re-sign their own free agent if necessary, using the usual exceptions for such. If they have already hit the cap limit at the end of those three days, they are allowed to match the offer using that cap exception instead of with normal, under-the-cap space.
Earlier we had reported that once a Blazers restricted free agent signs an offer sheet, the amount of that offer sheet would be held on Portland's cap. That's true in a sense, as the Blazers must be able to sign that player under cap rules to retain the right of first refusal. But the effects of this are not equal for the two teams involved. The offering team must maintain actual cap space as long as the offer is active. Since the Blazers could theoretically go over the cap to re-sign the player no matter where their actual cap number stood, they would have a three-day window after the offer was made in which to sign outside free agents, filling up their cap then going back to match the offer sheet on their restricted free agent.
If the Blazers do not fill up their cap by the end of that three-day period, the restricted free agent will fill up actual cap space (not over the cap exception space) if the Blazers match the offer.
Think of the salary cap ledger as a big box. You can fill the box over the top as long as your own free agents are the only things peeking out. If you stack all the other free agents on the bottom--filling only to the limits of the box--then leave your own free agents on the top, the pile can go as high as you can manage. You cannot, however, place your own free agents down in the box first, then stack other free agents on top, leaving them peeking over.
Long story short, the Blazers will be able to re-sign their restricted free agents with over-the-cap exceptions as long as those are the last signings they make. But they will not be allowed to match offers on their restricted free agents and then sign other free agents if those new signings would take them over the cap.
Practically speaking, once a restricted free agent offer sheet is signed the Blazers will have three days to stuff their salary cap box full of other free agents before matching the restricted offer. If they don't sign other free agents in those three days, their own re-signed restricted free agents will go down into the box, contributing to it being filled, taking away the chance to sign other free agents over and above that level.
It's worth noting that no contracts become valid until Thursday of this week, so the clock will start then for any offer sheets agreed to this week.
Hopefully this will clear up any misconceptions, including those that our earlier report may have caused.
For more great cap stuff, check out this Fanpost by Storyteller, our resident cap guru!