The biggest losers

Players who lose unrestricted free agency will take a hit. Jack Bechta

Print This January 04, 2010, 11:40 AM EST

The biggest losers in an uncapped 2010 season will be the 212 players who would have been unrestricted free agents. If no new Collective Bargaining Agreement is struck by March, those players will only be allowed to negotiate with their current teams, even though their contracts have expired.

An NFL career is short, typically 3½ years on average, so the more times a player can get to the negotiating table, the more money he will make. When I did second-round deals for Eric Steinbach, Jonathan Babineaux and Chester Pitts, I fought for four-year deals while other agents accepted five years with slightly larger signing bonuses (a few hundred thousand dollars).

The goal of the shorter deal is to set up the player for free agency in year five of their careers. In addition, doing a four- or five-year deal at age 26 or 27 gives the player a chance for a third contract when he reaches 30 to 32, which could still be a monster deal for an offensive lineman.

One season in the NFL is an eternity for players when it comes to waiting on their paydays. They have to hope and pray they won’t get injured. They may have to carry costly career-ending insurance, which can range between $50,000 and $300,000 or more. They have to hope they have another good year and their unit performs well. With the lack of progress between the union and the league in cutting a new deal, it looks like these players will take a financial hit and lose the freedom to work where they choose, and for the highest bidder for their services.

For teams that have three or more players in this category, it could save them millions and help keep them at a competitive advantage. Normally, they would lose most of their free agents. When the player asks his team why he won’t be extended, they’ll simply point to the CBA and say, “Talk to your union.” This is another reason the owners are welcoming an uncapped year.

I know that agents who represent a group of these players are in constant contact with players’ association executive director DeMaurice Smith about their plight. DeMaurice is aware of this situation and has acknowledged the group’s frustration. Unfortunately, this group doesn’t have a strong voice becauss many of the players reps are eight-year-plus veterans who don’t fall into this category.

One tactic you may see from agents is this: They may tell a club, “If you don’t treat my restricted client as if he’s a free agent and give him a long term deal, then we promise you that we’ll never agree to a long-term deal thereafter. It’s now or never!” The deadline will be the start of camp for these types of tactics.

Once again, 2010 should be one of the most interesting years on record in the NFL.

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