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News » Expiring cap, contracts in play now

Expiring cap, contracts in play now

Expiring cap, contracts in play now

Uncertainty about the NFL's salary cap system beyond 2009 is starting to be felt as players whose contracts are up after this season seek the security of new deals.

Several things in the league labor agreement change if an extension isn't in place by March. One hitting home now is eligibility for Free Agency. Players used to be eligible for unrestricted Free Agency after four accrued seasons. That changes to six without a salary cap.

That means players drafted in 2005 who signed five-year deals and players drafted in 2006 who signed four-year deals will not be eligible for unrestricted Free Agency after '09, as they may have thought when signing those contracts.

It has been estimated that about 170 players fall into this category. The Browns have four players who may be hurt by the change - receiver Braylon Edwards, linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, fullback Lawrence Vickers and linebacker Leon Williams.

It so happens that Edwards, Jackson and Vickers have not been participating regularly in the Browns' off-season conditioning program. League-wide, off-season workouts are voluntary and not mandatory.

The agents of Edwards and Williams couldn't be reached for comment. The agents for Jackson and Vickers said their absences are not related to their contract situations.

Brian Mackler, Jackson's agent, has begun talking to the Browns about a new contract, however. He said talks are in the "infancy stage."

Jackson is in the last year of a four-year deal signed as a rookie. He is scheduled to earn the NFL fourth-year minimum salary of $640,000 in 2009.

"[Jackson] has outperformed his contract," Mackler said. "He's a leader on the team - on and off the field. He's proven himself the last few years to be the top inside linebacker in the NFL. He led the league in tackles last year. And his contract needs to be addressed.

"I have a nice rapport with George [Kokinis, GM], Eric [Mangini, coach] and Dawn [Aponte, vice president of administration and new contract negotiator]. So we'll continue to speak."

Mackler said Jackson's absence from the off-season program is related to personal business. He said Jackson will be "in and out," and that he expected him back Monday.

Vickers has been doing conditioning work with Browns running back Jamal Lewis in Atlanta, said agent Andy Simms of locally based PlayersRep Sports.

"There are a lot of players who prepare themselves on their own," Simms said. "Some people feel that as good as the [ Browns' ] strength department is, they're worried about 80 guys and not everybody trains and prepares the same. Ultimately, it's what you do when you get there."

Simms said Vickers' contract situation is not an issue at the present time.

"He'd love to stay in Cleveland," Simms said. "Our approach is to see how things go in training camp. We haven't approached the Browns about an extension."

The uncertainty about the labor agreement swings leverage in these individual cases to the team.

If Edwards, Jackson, Vickers and Williams don't sign new deals, they become restricted free agents and the Browns can retain them by tendering contracts in accordance with present rules.

Edwards would be a restricted free agent in 2010 and then could become unrestricted the following year. The four-year players could be restricted for two years through 2011.

"Obviously, the uncertainty with the [collective bargaining agreement] is an issue for every player," Simms said. "I don't know how it's going to play out. Every position is unique, with a different pay scale. It's not something we're worried about right now. If we hang tight a little bit, we will learn a little more. Rushing into things isn't the right thing to do."

Be careful what you wish for: Most people assume abolishing the salary cap would be a financial boon to players because well-oiled owners would overspend to buy a championship.

"I don't believe that would be the case," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at league meetings in March. "People have to understand that there are two sides to [the removal of the cap]."

The present collective bargaining agreement calls for significant changes to go into effect if an extension isn't reached and the salary cap is abolished after 2009. Besides the Free Agency eligibility rules, the key changes are:

The salary cap floor would be eliminated.

Presently teams must spend at least 84 percent of the league cap on player salaries. The cap for 2009 is $127 million. The floor is $107 million. Without a salary cap, teams could lower their payroll to whatever they want.

Teams receive an additional franchise or transition tag to protect players from leaving.

Instead of one franchise and one transition tag, teams would have a combination of three. Some have speculated this provision could keep as many as 30 prime players from entering Free Agency.

Strict limitations for the eight teams that reach the divisional round of the playoffs.

The final four teams in the conference championship games would not be permitted to sign any free agent except for players who became free agents as a result of being released or whose contracts with their former teams expired.

The four losing teams in the divisional round would be restricted to signing only one player with a salary of $4.925 million or more. They could sign one free agent for each one of their own that leaves, but they couldn't spend more than what their former player received from his new team.

Terms of the college draft would have to be renegotiated.

The draft is in place only through 2011. If a new agreement is not in place by then, it's possible the union could hold out to abolish the draft and make every incoming player a free agent.

Nobody thinks it will come to that.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: tgrossi@plaind.com, 216-999-4670

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 12, 2009

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Jerome Harrison Name: Jerome Harrison
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