More than a few Chargers fans who have no qualms about the inconsistent messages being sent by a General Manager who seems to be more interested in sending messages than fielding the best possible roster of players have asked us about a portion of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that appears, on the surface, to provide the team with even more leverage against left tackle Marcus McNeill and receiver Vincent Jackson.
Article XIX, Section 2(h)(5)(iii) of the CBA provides as follows: “If a Restricted Free Agent does not play in the NFL in a League Year, his Prior Team shall have the right to tender such player any Qualifying Offer consistent with Section 2(b) prior to the next League Year’s Restricted Free Agent Signing Period.” As written, this means that, if McNeill and/or Jackson sit out the entire season, they’ll be restricted free agents again in 2011.
But here’s the catch. As of March 1, 2011, the current labor deal expires. A new agreement will eventually be negotiated. And in that agreement specific thresholds will be identified for restricted and unrestricted free agency.
McNeill, who has four years of service, and Jackson, who has five, got caught in the gears of the uncapped year, which pushed eligibility for unrestricted free agency from four years to six. The new CBA most likely won’t continue to hinge the ability to hit the open market on six years of service. And so the question will be whether the magic number reverts to four, as it was from 1993 through 2009, or whether it increases to five.
If it stays at four, McNeill and Jackson each will be unrestricted. If it moves to five, Jackson will be free and McNeill won’t.
Either way, the new CBA will account for the situation — and it’s highly unlikely that the league will insist on a provision that exempts Jackson and/or McNeill from free agency simply because they opted to sit out a full year.
The same analysis applies to Patriots guard Logan Mankins, who has five years of service and who may sit out the entire season. Even with the juice that Pats owner Bob Kraft possesses, it would be a surprise if the league pushes for a provision that would force players who have paid their dues to spend a second year under the weight of a hole in the uncapped year that will have served its purpose by the time a new labor deal has been finalized.