First off let me say that this is going to be a long one with a lot of information to digest. Get your coffee brewed and put your thinking cap on. If you are looking for a quick 2 paragraph summation, this isn’t it. All of this information, and a whole lot more, can be looked up by running a search for the NFL collective bargaining agreement. You can download the whole thing (all 302 pages) like I did and read through it if you would care to refute any information that I lay out here. Don’t be shy if you think I got something wrong. Research it and show everyone the evidence to prove me wrong. I’ve put quite a lot of time and effort into research and reading and I just want to present the highlights here for APers to review and discuss.
We’ve all been reading some basic information about and uncapped year, and we even know a few things as they relate to UFA and RFA and how it may impact the coming 2010 season. In this post I will attempt to do a few things:
1) Define some basic terminology that we need to intelligently discuss the issues beyond the simplistic definitions we already know.
2) Pass on some other bits of knowledge that have always been part of the CBA that you may not have known about.
3) Highlight the major changes that come about in what is referred to as the "Final League Year"
4) Review how those changes affect some specific players drafted in ’06 and ’07.
We’ll get started with the basic definitions that apply after the jump.
Final League Year (FLY): The Final league Year is defined as the final NFL season before the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Because the team owners elected not to extend the CBA in 2009 the CBA will expire on the opening NFL day of 2011. Meaning 2010 is the Final League Year (FLY). The opening day of the 2010 season is March 5th, 2010. If no new CBA is in place before that date then the 2010 season will be the (FLY).
Salary Cap: The maximum amount of money a team will be allowed to spend on its players during any one NFL defined season. In 2009 it was $123,000,000 give or take a few bucks. In the (FLY) there will be NO salary cap.
Salary Floor: The minimum amount of money a team must spend on its players during any one NFL defined season. In 2009 it was $107,748,000 give or take a few bucks. In the (FLY) there will be NO salary floor.
Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA): A player was considered to be an (UFA) if their contract has expired AND they have at least 4 years of NFL experience. Beginning in the (FLY) a player will be considered an (UFA) if their contract has expired and they have at least 6 years of NFL experience. An (UFA) is free to sign with any NFL club with no compensation owed to the old team.
Restricted Free Agent (RFA): A player was considered to be a (RFA) if their contract had expired AND they had at least 3 years of NFL experience. Beginning in the (FLY) a player will be considered a (RFA) if their contract has expired AND they have between 4 and 5 years of NFL experience. (I don’t want to get into what factors determine 4 or 5 years in this post). A (RFA) is free to take offer sheets from any NFL club, but their current team holds first right of refusal and/or compensation rights. Meaning if their current team wants to keep them, they can match a contract. If they don’t want to match the contract they are afforded compensation in draft picks in return for the player.
Tags: Each NFL club is awarded 2 tags (Franchise and Transition) that they can place on a FA who they want to keep. A club may only USE 1 of these tags. Beginning in the (FLY) each NFL club will receive 3 tags instead of 2 (1 Franchise and 2 Transition), and will be allowed to use 2 tags instead of 1.
Franchise Tag (FT): Any player that has the (FT) placed on them will remain on their current team with no new multiyear contract, and no extension to the current contract. They will receive EITHER 120% of their salary from the previous season OR the average of the top 5 league salaries from players of their position; whichever is MORE.
Transition Tag (TT): Any player that has the (TT) placed on them will receive EITHER 120% of their previous year’s salary OR the average of the top 10 leagues salaries at their position; whichever is MORE. Another club MAY offer them a contract, at which time their current club has 7 days to match the offer made if it is more than the (TT) salary.
PART II: (now we get to some things you may not be familiar with)
Top 8 Plan: Beginning in the (FLY) the top 8 teams that make it to divisional playoff round will be further restricted in acquiring (UFA)’s. The top 8 plan is broken down into 2 parts. I’m calling them Top 4 (T4) and Bottom 4 (B4) for lack of better terms.
(T4): The top 4 finishing teams from the previous NFL season will ONLY be allowed to sign 1 (UFA) for each (UFA) they lose. If they do not lose any (UFA’s) from their team they may NOT sign any (UFA) to their roster.
(B4): The 4 teams that LOSE in the divisional round of the playoffs will to be allowed to sign 1 (UFA) for each 1 (UFA) they LOSE with no additional conditions. In ADDITION to those (UFA’s) they may ALSO sign more (UFA’s) given that a set of guidelines is met. They may sign ONLY 1 (UFA) with a first year salary of ($5.5 million or more). This number is estimated for the 2010 season and based off salary levels around the league. They may sign any (UFA’s) with a first year salary of ($3.7 million or less). (This is also an estimated figure for the 2010 season). There are also restrictions in place that limit how much the salary of those players are allowed to escalate each year during their contract. Meaning, teams will not be able to ‘low ball’ the first year to get under the limit and then ‘balloon’ the salaries on the back end.
The 30% Rule: This rule will remain in effect for the (FLY). Salary increases to players may NOT exceed 30% of the previous year’s salary. Signing bonuses are not affected by this run, just base yearly salary.
Besides the changes that have been defined above in parts I & II there are quite a few additional changes that take place in the (FLY). I will NOT try to list them all here in this post (Upmann breathes a sigh of relief) but I will highlight a couple of things I found particularly interesting.
No player’s salary may increase more than 30% over the previous year salary. This rule was carried over DESPITE the uncapped year. This restricts a clubs ability to just make an insane salary offer to steal all the best players, even if that club did NOT finish top 8.
In the (FLY) NFL clubs are NO LONGER obligated to fund some player programs. There are quite a few programs but the short list would be:
Career Savings (401k), Severance pay, Player annuity, and Performance based pay (such as additional pay for playoff, super bowl, and pro bowl appearances)
In 2009 the total contributions to these other player programs were in excess of $10,000,000 PER team, or $325,000,000 league wide. I’m not saying the owners would all vote to stop paying into these programs, but they would no longer be required to set aside a single dime for them.
Side note: The owners and league offices have already agreed that there will be no reduction in pension or disability for retired players during the (FLY).
The league, in the (FLY), has the "unilateral right" to keep or eliminate the rookie pool. Meaning they could decide that NO DEDICATED level of salary would be required to spend on rookie contracts. If they want to sign all their draft picks for as low as they can possibly negotiate then they can do that. While this will most likely not effect first round draft picks, owners would be free to lowball everyone else (including undrafted players and later round picks) because they are not restricted to spend at least X amount of dollars on rookies. This could lead to a ‘prince and the pauper’ draft where high round picks cash in while everyone else plays for the league minimum without any signing bonuses.
Let me start by pointing out that the players most immediately affected by the (FLY) and the uncapped year are going to be players drafted in 2nd-7th rounds of the 2006 and 2007 NFL drafts, and those that were not drafted at all. Most teams strive to lock up their first round picks with 6 year deals. Sometimes a few players may get a 5 year contract, but most of the clubs insisted on 6ers.
Players taken in the 1st round get an immediate ‘money contract’ in their first year, and then after the first deal as expired they are entering their 7th NFL season and get a chance at a second ‘money contract’. Players taken in later rounds typically have to settle for a much lower contract straight out of school, but it’s usually shorter in duration (3-5 years depending on the round they were chosen). This, in the past gave them the opportunity to negotiate a ‘money contract’ when those first contracts expired. With the (UFA) and (RFA) rule changes extending the number of years those players have to play until they become a FA a LOT of these players are going to have to sign another contract after 3-5 years in the league without the chance to become a FA. Even when they DO become a FA each ball club now has the option to tag TWO players instead of just 1. That means that every team will be able to lock up their best 2 guys whose contracts have expired at will. With the additional restrictions on of the Top 8 Plan, these players will most likely be headed to an underperforming team once they manage to get to FAcy because the top 8 will be forced to give up (UFA’s) in order to get (UFA’s) OR be restricted to how many (UFA) they are allowed to sign based on salary levels. In short, 2006-2007 draft picks are about to get bent over and violated by the uncapped year.
While I won’t endeavor to list everyone let me just highlight some 2006 2nd round picks that are about to get screwed because they will no longer be (UFA’s) in 2010:
Thomas Howard, Duece Lutui, Cedric Griffin, Greg Jennings, Tavaris Jackson, D’Qwell Jackson, Marcus McNeill, Ricky McIntosh, DeMarco Ryans, LenDale White
How about 2007 2nd and 3rd round picks that will not become (UFA’s) in 2011:
Justin Blalock, David Harris, Trent Edwards, Zach Miller, LaMarr Woodley, Steve Smith, Sidney Rice, Tony Ugoh
There are at bare minimum 40 other quality players taken in later rounds of the 2006/2007 drafts that will not see FAcy in 2010/2011. Again, I make no attempt to provide a complete list but a few names you may recognize are:
Antoine Bethea, Kevin Boss, Michael Bush, Willie Colon, Elvis Dumervil, Dawan Landry, Cliff Ryan
These are all players that will most likely not have the chance to negotiate a better deal with some other team because of all the new restrictions. Without the threat of losing these players to some other team, their current teams will not be under any pressure to pay them their ‘money contracts’ for at least 1 or 2 more years. In a league where the average career lasts only 3 years that becomes a big deal to the players. They never know how long they will be able to play before an injury ends their career, and with the (FLY) looming they face the real possibility of never getting to a position where they have the upper hand in negotiations for big dollars.
Just look over the 2006 and 2007 drafts. I’m sure you can find even more names of guys that are currently making a real name for themselves in the NFL that are going to end up sucking on a turd of a second contract because of all the rule changes in the (FLY). From where I sit I’d say the owners have the major upper hand in CBA bargaining. The only threat the players can bring to bear is a walk out/strike, and that threat shortens their career’s and takes away their money the same as it does for the owners.
In fact, because the owners opted out of the CBA in 2009, they have had a full year already to prepare and reorganize their finances to help them survive in the case that there is a work stoppage in the NFL. Some have even added clauses into business contracts that free them from liability in the face of extraordinary event or circumstance that prevent them from fulfilling obligations. For instance, a company that has agreed to sponsor a team stadium in return for X amount of TV time, or X number of mentions, or X amount of market placement may continue to pay the owners even though the owners are unable to fulfill their end of the contract due to a work stoppage. The same holds true for other sponsor deals, including shoe companies, sports drinks, ‘official sponsor of the …..’ local market deals, and similar income streams that team owners generate. The NFL has been a cash cow for so many companies for so long now that sponsors are willing to take a risk of work stoppage in order to attach their name to the teams.
This could all get really ugly, but the players are not holding the cards like they were in the last player’s union strike. This time the upper hand resides with the league.
Part V: (This is just a list of KC Chiefs 2006 and 2007 draft picks in order of round taken)
2006: Tamba Hali,
Bernard Pollard, Brodie Croyle, Marcus Maxey, Tre Stallings, Jeff Webb, Jarrard Page
2007: Dwayne Bowe,
Turk McBride, Demarcus Tyler, Kolby Smith, Justin Medlock, Herbert Taylor, Michael Allen
I think that should be enough to get the discussion going. Have at it AP'ers.