RFA market latest symptom of savings

Following up yesterday’s piece on the nonexistent market for RFAs, there were a few players that chose to not sign their tenders and risk the team reducing their one-year amounts drastically. Keep in mind that a team does not have to reduce the player’s amount to 110% of last year’s salary; it simply can do so today or let the amount stand. Then the player can continue to sit with an unsigned contract and have no responsibility to show up to minicamp, training camp or even games. If the player does not sign by Week 10, he cannot play in 2010.

With moves like these, some teams worry about player dissension, about hard feelings spread throughout the locker room about management, and about certain players infecting others with a bad attitude about management. For other teams, however, that is less of concern, including two of the more successful teams in recent years, the Patriots and Chargers.

Patriot games

In New England, Logan Mankins not only did not sign his tender but ratcheted up the stakes with a trade demand and made some unflattering statements about the Patriots and their integrity.
The Patriots were discussing a contract with Mankins when the marketplace changed last month. The Saints and Jahri Evans agreed on an eight-year, $56.1 million deal, over an 8 million APY (average per year). Although there are some positives for the team in that deal – it is eight years and the entire guarantee is contained in the first year – the Patriots were not pleased. They have held to a 7 million APY. They also have a problem addressing Mankins situation prior to that of their bell cow, Tom Brady, while stalling Brady due to the uncertainty of the labor situation.

Charger blues

In San Diego, Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill thumbed their noses at the massive reductions they face from the Chargers and will sit on those lowered offers for a while.

The Chargers are the most advantaged team in the league due to the uncapped year. With several quality players restricted that would have otherwise been unrestricted, they have saved tens of millions of dollars and can watch and wait how these players perform in 2010 before committing to one or more of them in 2011, if then. Teams like the Chargers have reaped extraordinary benefit from the rules in place for this uncapped year. And they are not the only ones.

Other big savers

The Broncos have retained starting quarterback Kyle Orton and premiere defensive end Elvis Dumervil with tenders (and been able to trade Brandon Marshall, a headache without a contract) rather than engage in any bidding. The Packers – while finally locking up Nick Collins after his five-year rookie contract expired and he was tendered as a RFA – have had tremendous savings in their ability to tender a starting level cornerback in Tramon Williams, versatile defensive lineman Johnny Jolly (who, despite his legal troubles, is a player the team feels is dripping with talent) and starting safety Atari Bigby. Other teams such as the Saints (Lance Moore, Roman Harper, Pierre Thomas), Cowboys (Miles Austin), Vikings (Ray Edwards) and Bucs (Donald Penn) have reaped benefits of this system as well.

A few lucky RFAs

Not all RFAs have had to sit with their tenders only to not be addressed with a long-term contract. Big extensions have been rewarded to RFAs such as Collins with the Packers, Evans of the Saints, the Colts’ Antoine Bethea and the Texans’ DeMeco Ryans. These deals have served alienate and infuriate the players waiting for their turn at the trough.

One of the key subtexts in the labor negotiations amidst this uncapped year was the question of what type of free agent market there would be without a Salary Cap to regulate spending. The answer is now clear: with the simultaneously imposed restrictions about years required for full free agency, the system has worked to the detriment of players. The UFA group was thin and older: the RFA group, while attractive from a player personnel standpoint, required giving up of large contracts and highly valued draft picks, neither of which teams were prepared to do. Despite the talent of the group, teams have used the rules in place with the uncapped year to their financial advantage. In a word, the RFA market was a dud. Moreover, teams control the rights to these players, unsigned contract or not.

All of these leads to the question I am most asked in recent weeks, about the C word: collusion. I will address that in the next column.

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