At one point in recent days, we heard that the NFL had advised its member teams not to attempt to sign any UFL players after the completion of the UFL’s season, given the UFL’s insistence on payment of a $150,000 “transfer fee.” Such an approach, however, possibly could be construed as an antitrust violation; if one of the NFL’s 32 independent businesses wishes to pay the $150,000, neither the league office nor any of the other businesses should be able to stop them.
As it turns out, the league office issued on Friday a memo to all clubs setting forth the procedure for contacting and signing UFL players.
Per the memo, NFL teams may immediately begin contacting players from UFL teams, if the interested NFL team first obtains a signed consent form that would permit a tryout. The form must be filed with the league office before any communication occurs with a given player. Tryouts may commence the day after Friday’s UFL title game.
Then, before signing the UFL player to a contract, another consent form must be executed.
The memo explains the NFL’s understanding that the $150,000 fee won’t be charged if a UFL player receives a tryout, if a UFL player is signed to the practice squad, or if a UFL player is signed to an NFL “future” contract after the current NFL season ends.
The memo also explains that a UFL player may be signed to the practice squad and later promoted to the active roster without the $150,000 fee being paid. That’s an important loophole, but it encompasses only a narrow band of UFL players who retain the ability to join an NFL practice squad.
For example, running back Maurice Clarett could be signed to a practice squad, because he never was on an NFL roster. (Maybe the guy that once used a third-round pick on him will be interested.)
It remains to be seen whether NFL teams actually take advantage of the ability to sign UFL players upon payment of the $150,000 fee. Last year, 43 UFL players were signed by NFL teams. If none make the leap this year, there’s a chance the UFL will claim that the NFL teams have violated the antitrust laws on a wink-nod basis, and that the memo was window dressing aimed at undermining a claim.
As a reader recently pointed out, maybe the UFL eventually will duplicate the USFL’s success in court against the NFL, harvesting a whopping $3 verdict.