The labor agreement contains plenty of hidden provisions that make it harder for teams that did well in 2009 to gobble up free agents in the uncapped year.
But there’s a provision of the “Final Eight Plan” that the league will be interpreting in a manner that expands the pool of players that the division-round teams can sign without consequence.
Article XXI, Section 2(a) of the CBA allows the final eight teams (Ravens, Colts, Jets, Chargers, Cardinals, Cowboys, Vikings, Saints) to sign “any Unrestricted Free Agent who acquired that status as a result of the NFL waiver system.”
This provision easily could be read as applying only to players who become unrestricted free agents after passing through waivers; from the end of the 2009 season through the 2010 trade deadline, players with four of more years or service are not required to clear waivers before becoming free agents, so they don’t acquire UFA status “as a result of the NFL waiver system.”
NFL director of corporate communications Dan Masonson, who has been incredibly helpful to our efforts to understand the nuances of the labor deal, tells us that the final eight teams will be permitted to sign any players who have been released from their contracts, regardless of whether they had to pass through the waiver system before becoming free agents.
The limitations of the Final Eight Plan, as Masonson explained it, apply only to players with six or more years of service whose contracts expire after the 2009 season.
So if, for example, quarterback Marc Bulger is released by the Rams, one of the final eight teams could sign him. Ditto for Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter, and any other player who’ll be dumped from his current deal.