Reduction of free agency to four years may be harder than it looks

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Last season, after the threshold for unrestricted free agency had been moved from four years to six years, there was talk that the league didn’t plan to go back to four.  We thought it was posturing, aimed only at making the players feel like they’ve secured a significant concession when the league returns to the UFA path that applied from the creation of real (mostly) free agency through 2009.  So when Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that the new CBA would roll the limit back to four, it wasn’t much of a surprise.

Now here’s the surprise.

Chris Mortensen of ESPN told 101 ESPN in St. Louis that, once the free-agency frenzy commences, the owners want to have a right of first refusal as to three or four players per team.  This would operate essentially as the transition tag, which provides a right to match but no compensation.  And, in cases where the current team chooses to match, it means that the team that pursued the player negotiated his new contract with his old team at no charge.  (In this regard, it would be wise for the new CBA to deal with the whole Steve Hutchinson “poison pill” thing.)

Also, Howard Balzer of 101 ESPN tells us that teams that didn’t apply the franchise tag to players with four or five years of service want to have the chance to do so.

As to the latter point, we’d say, “Tough crap.”  Teams should have known that free agency likely would be reverting to the pre-2010 rules.  And teams like the Steelers and the Ravens were smart enough to apply the franchise tag to LaMarr Woodley (pictured) and Haloti Ngata, respectively, even though neither guy has six years of service.  Any owners that took a chance on the free agency rules not changing from 2010 to 2011 gambled and, apparently, lost.  Thus, if they want to keep their four-year or five-year free agents, they need to pay them market value.

It’s only fair, given the manner in which teams didn’t pursue restricted free agents in 2010.

UPDATE:  The prior version of this story accidentally included a picture of Steelers linebacker Larry Foote.  The site from which we get our photos had it listed as a photo of Woodley.  I still should have realized it wasn’t Woodley.

12 responses to “Reduction of free agency to four years may be harder than it looks

  1. I feel like a hypocrite for agreeing with the opinions presented in this piece but i have to say I do agree.

    When the owners gambled the rules wouldn’t change they’d be the big winners over the players losing if they were right. It is only fair that since they lost on that gamble they now have to pay the price.

    My hypocrisy comes from thinking that PFT puts too much editorializing in it’s pieces that are also news pieces. News is news, opinion is opinion, keeping the two separate is kinda synonymous with integrity.

    That said when a sentence begins “As to the latter point, we’d say, ” well I don’t have any problem with that, it shows integrity and in this case I even agree!

  2. 4 years before a player becomes an unrestricted free agent is good, but there should definitely be a limit on the amount of times a team can put a franchise tag on a player. V-Jax is the perfect example of why. let that man go somewhere else and play.

  3. Pay the guy or let him go. All these transition and franchise tags are nothing but some mess.

    You can’t rent a guy for a year and expect him to be happy.

  4. Where are all the anti-union, pro-free market, pro-capitalism commenters on this one?

    Funny how idealogy can run out of steam when faced with reality.

    How can a person be for the owners and against unions, but for anti-trust exemptions and for restricting player movement AFTER that player had fulfilled his contract?

    All the franchise tag does is force a player to take good money for a year at the expense of losing a long-term contract somewhere else. Now the owners want even more protection from player movement?

    All of you cry about socialism and liberal judges, but don’t seem too bothered that owners can violate the free market principles you hold so dear.


  5. Per Blogging the Beast:

    There are 10 NFL teams that used their franchise tag on players that would have been eligible for a restricted free agent tender:

    David Harris 4 years Jets
    LaMarr Woodley 4 years Steelers
    Ryan Kalil 4 years Panthers
    Paul Soliai 4 years Dolphins
    Tamba Hali 5 years Chiefs
    Kamerion Wimbley 5 years Raiders
    Chad Greenway 5 years Vikings
    Marcedes Lewis 5 years Jaguars
    Vincent Jackson 6 years Chargers
    Logan Mankins 6 years Patriots

    No way teams like the Cowboys who should have tagged Doug Free should be bailed out.

  6. The big question, as always, is which, and how many, of the “owners” want this bad enough to torpedo the CBA negotiations. I’m sure the owners would like wagonloads of free money as well. But the fact is that the capless year gave owners plenty of opportunity to lock up players to long-term cap-friendly contracts, and they chose to collude with each other to screw free agents. Now they want to screw them again. I’m missing how this shows they are serious about making a deal?

  7. Here is my humble opinion of how you do this thing.

    Players get a fixed percentage of revenue no matter what, every year. At the end of the season, corrections are made and paid out or subtracted from player pay accordingly.

    Specific rules outlining rookie contracts. Depending on what position the player plays, and where he is drafted, he gets a specific rookie contract. Period. Each year the NFL and NFLPA negotiate this.

    In order to become a free agent, you have to play out your rookie contract. Period. Neither the player nor the team have the ability to change this.

    Once you are a free agent, you can get whatever money you can get, but your current team always has the option of matching any contract another team offers. No penalty. If you want to snipe a player, negotiating his contract for free is a risk you take. Once you are on a “veteran contract” you have all the same rules with crying about pay and sitting out and all that jazz.

    Keep the salary cap.

    I feel like one thing that hurts the NFL is all the bickering and sitting out and BS that comes with contracts. Fans hate hearing about millionaires bitch over how much they are getting paid or if they like their boss. In the real world, there are real penalties for breaking contracts. Teams and players should have to stick to the contracts they make. If a player sucks, the team can cut them but are still on the hook to pay out the contract, even if it just goes to a genera league fund.

  8. @sl1111

    I guess I’m one of the people you would consider ‘pro-owner’ and i think a franchise tag, when abused, is a terrible thing (like in San Diego for instance). I do however think that there should be a franchise tag, but I think it should only be allowed to be used on a player once. After that season they either have to sign him to a deal or let him move on.

    and i don’t have any problem with the nfl antitrust exemption. from what i understand all it does is make it so the teams act as one when they make a deal with broadcasters. i don’t see the problem with that.

    it would only be socialism if the NFL controlled the production and distribution of football. they don’t control either. players are free to join any football league that they would like. they choose to enter the NFL. and other leagues are free to distribute football through television networks. it’s not the NFL’s fault that none of the other leagues are popular. Terrelle Pryor is the latest example. He could’ve chosen to go to the CFL but he’s CHOOSING to join the NFL. that’s called having a choice. that’s called capitalism.

  9. Once a person supports his opinion with the phrase “in the real world” their opinion becomes worthless.
    The NFL is not the real world. It is not a typical business where one entity benefits whenthe other fails. UPS does not benefit when FedEx ships more packages. Atl sells more tickets to the Carolina game when the Panthers are a good team.
    The same is true for the ones that say “my boss doesn’t give me 48% of revenue.”
    The whole system is a non-typical business model. Stop comparing it to the real world.

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