The New Orleans Saints have offered Jaguars restricted free-agent cornerback Jason Craft a contract worth $3.6 million over three years, including a $1.2 million signing bonus.
Craft was offered a "minimum-tender" contract by the Jaguars on Feb. 28, which grants the Jaguars right of first refusal on the offer Craft has received from the Saints. The Jaguars can retain Craft by matching the Saints offer within the next seven days. The Jaguars have until the close of business on Thursday, March 14, to match the offer or lose Craft to the Saints. If the Jaguars do not match the offer, the Saints must compensate the Jaguars a fifth-round draft choice, which the Jaguars used to select Craft in the 1999 NFL draft.
The minimum-tender offer required the Jaguars to include Craft on the team's 2002 salary cap at a $563,000 salary hit. Knowing the Jaguars are cap-strapped, the Saints are believed to have structured the deal so Craft's cap hit this season will be significantly higher than what the Jaguars have allowed. Early indications are Craft's cap hit would jump to $1.4 million.
Craft played impressively after replacing an injured Fernando Bryant in the starting lineup for the final five games of the 2001 season. Craft's value to the Jaguars increased dramatically last week when the Jaguars released starting cornerback Aaron Beasley in a cap-cutting personnel move.
Restricted free-agent running back Stacey Mack, the Jaguars' leading rusher last season, was also minimum-tendered by the team on Feb. 28. The Jaguars retain right-of-first-refusal rights to Mack, but since Mack came to the Jaguars as an undrafted rookie free agent in 1999, another team may sign Mack without having to compensate the Jaguars a draft choice.