Nothing in the Collective Bargaining Agreement prevents a team from dumping a veteran contract late in the offseason. Individual player contracts can. And the recent decisions by the Chiefs and Jets to dump receiver Jeremy Maclin and linebacker David Harris and receiver Eric Decker (if he’s not traded), respectively, underscore the importance of protecting players with clauses that require teams to make early decisions.
Whether it’s a roster bonus or a salary guarantee, plenty of contracts contain triggers that require a team to commit to the player or sever ties while the player will have a full and fair chance to find another job.
Without those protections, veteran players are at the mercy of teams that can dump them at any time before Week One, at which time the player’s base salary for the coming year becomes as a practical matter guaranteed. It multiple past cases, these moves have been made not in early June but in late August, usually with the team putting the squeeze on the player to take less at a time when he’ll have a hard time finding another suitor — and an even harder time quickly assimilating to a new city, locker room, and coaching staff.
Given that long-term veteran contracts usually are guaranteed for the first two or three years, players need to insist on these early triggers in the out years, so that they’ll know as soon as possible whether they’ll be looking for another job. Without those protections, every veteran player needs to realize that a surprise could emerge as the season approaches.