Vincent Jackson doesn't have to sign his tender to serve his suspension

Once upon a time, the NFL would not let players not under contract serve suspensions unless and until they belonged to a team.  And so men like receiver Andre Rison, whose NFL career ended with a four-game suspension hanging over his head, had significant trouble getting a new job, since the first order of business would have been to exile him for four games.

The rules have since changed.  As NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed to us via e-mail, players not under contract can nevertheless serve their suspensions.  So, for Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson, he won’t be required to sign a contract before serving his three-game suspension.  Instead, he’ll serve his time from Week 1 through Week 3, regardless of whether he signs his tender offer.

The same rule doesn’t apply to players who are under contract and holding out.  Aiello explains that, in those situations, the suspension is tolled under the player under contract reports.

There’s a vague caveat that applies in the case of players like Jackson.  Aiello points out, that for restricted free agents who have received but not accepted tender offers, “the CBA may impose additional restrictions depending on the date that the player ultimately signs and reports to his club.”

We’ve checked the CBA, and we see nothing expressly linking restricted free agents and suspensions, and we can envision nothing that would impact Vincent Jackson, given the relatively short length of his suspension.  For a longer suspensions covering 10 or more but fewer than 16 games, the player would still be required (per Article XIX, Section (i)) to sign his contract by the tenth week of the regular season in order to play at all during the season in question.