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As new CBA nears, free-agency rules still unclear

Posted on: June 19, 2011 3:00 pm
 
Posted by Ryan Wilson

NFL owners are scheduled to meet in Chicago Tuesday, and they have been told to plan to stay late, presumably in order to continue hammering out the details of a new collective bargaining agreement. And depending on which source you consult, the new CBA could usher in the 2011 season by mid-July.

The biggest issue between the owners and players has been about how to split the 10-figure revenue pie, but there are plenty of other important details to sort out, too. Like the nuances of free agency and the salary-cap rules that will accompany it.

In a typical offseason, free agency began in March. Now NFL teams could have just a few days to review any changes to free-agency rules resulting from the new CBA before a hectic signing period would take place prior to training camp.

The Green Bay Press Gazette's Pete Dougherty writes about a looming labor resolution as it relates to the Packers' roster, but the overall theme holds for the other 31 teams, as well.
If the deal isn’t finished until closer to the start of camps, or after camps were scheduled to have opened, most of the signings and the beginning of camps could overlap in an especially chaotic time for front offices, coaches and players.

Teams are working from the assumption that the new CBA will return eligibility for unrestricted free agency to four years service, the same as it was from 1993 through 2009. That’s not guaranteed but is the most likely outcome of the pending CBA talks.

Less certain is how the CBA will handle restricted free agency this season.
Restricted free agency will have to be worked out ahead of time, and it could even be canceled for 2011. As for whether free agency will require just four years of service (as it was from '93 to '09) or remain at five (as it did in 2010) is still unknown. Clearly, Dougherty thinks four years is likely, while the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly tweeted on June 9: "Word on the street is '10 rules will apply IF a new CBA gets done so it looks like [DeAngelo] Williams/ [Ahmad] Bradshaw are is out."

Because it's cheaper, teams would prefer to push free agency as far off into the future as possible. Not surprisingly, players want the opposite. Rotoworld points out that "No one, from Adam Schefter to Peter King, has been able to get a good read on what rules will end up in place, but the pre-2010 assumption has merit as long as there is agreement on a new CBA." 

Hopefully, Tuesday's meeting will go a long way in settling these issues. Because, frankly, the prospect of a shortened NFL season appeals to absolutely no one, even if history says it won't much affect the eventual playoff teams.

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