Pitts, Robinson among Texans' notable free agents

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When the new league year begins on March 5, 23 Texans players are slated to become free agents. Eight of those players will be restricted free agents and 15 will be unrestricted, unless there's a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place.

Among the Texans' top unrestricted free agents will be left guard Chester Pitts, cornerback Dunta Robinson, wide receiver Kevin Walter and punter Matt Turk. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans, tight end Owen Daniels and safety Bernard Pollard will be among the team's top restricted free agents.

Quarterback Matt Schaub is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, but the Texans already have announced that they'll extend his contract by picking up his option bonus this offseason. The deadline for that is Feb. 13, five days after the Super Bowl.

Unrestricted free agents can negotiate or sign with any team, including the Texans, beginning March 5. The Texans have the exclusive right to negotiate with the players until then.

Rule changesBecause this is the final year of the old CBA between players and owners, all teams can use one transition tag and one franchise tag on their unrestricted free agent pool this offseason. In the past, teams could use only one tag or the other – not both.

Another rule that's changing, barring a new CBA: A player will be required to have six years of experience in order to become an unrestricted free agent. The old requirement was four years. That's why Ryans, Daniels and Pollard – each of whom just completed his fourth NFL season – probably will be restricted this offseason.

Any restricted free agent who doesn't receive a tender offer from the Texans by March 4 will become unrestricted the next day. A restricted tag gives teams the right of first refusal – in other words, teams have one week to match any offer that one of their restricted free agent signs with another team. Last offseason, that happened when restricted free agent wide receiver David Anderson signed an offer sheet with the Denver Broncos. The Texans matched the offer and kept Anderson in Houston.

Had the Texans decided not to match the Broncos' offer, they would have lost Anderson but been compensated with a draft pick by the Broncos. Many restricted free agents carry such a price tag, depending on the level of tender offered to them. The highest compensation a team can receive for losing a restricted free agent is a first- and a third-round draft pick.

Recent historyLast year, the Texans re-signed four of their six restricted free agents: Daniels, Anderson, tight end Joel Dreessen and tackle Rashad Butler. Defensive end Stanley McClover was a restricted free agent who they did not tender but later re-signed. The Texans also signed four of their 12 unrestricted free agents – safety Eugene Wilson, guard Chris White, safety Nick Ferguson and defensive tackle Jeff Zgonina – and used the franchise tag to hold on to a fifth, Robinson.

The Texans' major free agent signings were defensive end Antonio Smith, defensive tackle Shaun Cody, quarterbacks Dan Orlovsky and Rex Grossman and linebacker Cato June. They did not sign any other teams' restricted agents in 2009.

Here's a look at the key dates and names of the 2010 free agency period as they pertain to the Texans:

Texans' Potential 2010 Free Agents (free agency begins March 5)

Restricted Free Agents (8)
DE Tim Bulman
S John Busing
T Rashad Butler
TE Owen Daniels
RB Ryan Moats
S Bernard Pollard
LB DeMeco Ryans
G/C Chris White*

*Would have been a UFA under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement

Unrestricted Free Agents (15)
RB Chris Brown
LB Khary Campbell
S Nick Ferguson
QB Rex Grossman
LS Bryan Pittman
G Chester Pitts
G Tutan Reyes
CB Dunta Robinson
S Brian Russell
T Ephraim Salaam
QB Matt Schaub*
LB Chaun Thompson
P Matt Turk
WR Kevin Walter
DT Jeff Zgonina

*Will not enter free agency; Texans have announced they will extend Schaub's contract

Key Dates – Free Agency 2010
Feb. 11-25: Designation period during which teams can designate a player with a franchise and/or transition tag
Feb. 13: Deadline for the Texans to pick up the option on Matt Schaub's contract
March 4: Deadline for RFAs' prior club to tender them
March 5: Start of the new league year, beginning of free agency
April 15: Last day that a restricted free agent may sign an offer sheet with a new club

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