What we have in the National Football League is confusion and what we all hope for is clarity.
Since the owners opted out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement last May, no progress has been made in talks with the players’ union. The league is headed for an uncapped 2010 season, which will commence on March 5.
And let’s be honest — there probably aren’t going to be any last-minute deals because both sides have dug in for a long battle. You might have a better shot of going to Las Vegas tonight with $1 savings and coming home with $100,000.
“Our focus is on trying to get an agreement as soon as we possibly can," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said last week. "Before there is any kind of a work stoppage or any of the  scenarios … we still have a lot of time and a lot of important opportunities here to structure something that makes sense for everybody.
“And as I said, we’re committed and we’re determined to do that. Our focus is on the immediate future. In the next 30 days or so, we’ll be going into an uncapped year if we are not successful. A lot of players will be affected by that. We’d like to see if something can get done.”
As it stands right now, the Jets have seven players — LS James Dearth, DE Marques Douglas, K Jay Feely, LB Ryan Fowler, TE Ben Hartsock, LB/special teamer Larry Izzo and FB Tony Richardson — who will become unrestricted free agents on March 5. The Jets, one of four teams who participated in the conference championship games, won’t be able to sign any UFAs themselves unless one of the aforementioned seven signs with another club.
“We can’t sign one until we would lose one, and again, that’s someone whose contract expires and they have been in the league for six or more seasons,” said GM Mike Tannenbaum. “If a player gets cut by another team, they become a free agent and we would be able to sign them.”
The Jets don’t have a large group of UFAs because only players who have been in the league six years or more will qualify for free agency in 2010. Before we turn our attention to restricted free agents (RFAs), there is a salary-matching component to this whole UFA situation.
For example, let’s say one of the above Jets veterans becomes a UFA and signs a three-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons for $1 million in year one, $1.3 million in year two and $1.9 million in year three. The Jets could in turn sign one player themselves, but his first-year salary couldn’t be more than the $1 million the former Jets vet received, and then the club would be limited to a 30 percent jump from that original $1 million each additional season. So the Jets could go as high as $1.3 million in year two and then $1.6 million in year three.
Even if the Jets wanted to make a play for a Julius Peppers-type player, the likelihood of that happening would be slim and none. If the Panthers don’t sign Pep to an extension or place the franchise tag on the star before Feb. 25, he’s going to be a UFA and will want to be the highest paid defensive player in the NFL. Also, ESPN’s Adam Schefter recently reported that the Jets may work on an extension for the game’s best CB, Darrelle Revis.
The Jets’ group of restricted free agents stands at 11 — QB Kellen Clemens, CB Drew Coleman, WR Braylon Edwards, DT Howard Green, T Wayne Hunter, S James Ihedigbo, WR Brad Smith, S Eric Smith, RB-KR Leon Washington and WR-special teams ace Wallace Wright. Although the deadline for the Green & White to tender qualifying offers is March 4, Mr. T. already announced that the club is “definitely” going to tender Washington, Edwards was a “similar situation” to the explosive back and Clemens would receive a tender as well.
By placing a tender on a restricted free agent, the Jets protect themselves from losing that player in a couple of ways. Other teams can make contract offers to the Jets’ 11 RFAs from March 5-April 15, but New York’s AFC representative would have one week to match anything that was signed, with the last possible matching date landing on April 21. If the Jets choose not to match an offer, they would receive compensation in the form of a draft pick or picks determined by the player’s tender and draft selection.
“We need a little bit more time,” Tannenbaum said when asked about what tender Washington would receive. “There are some fairly complicated rules in terms of draft classes and who you can tender at what level, so we will take a close look at that as well.”
According to an Associated Press report, there are more than 200 players who would have been UFAs and now will be RFAs under these new rules. And there are some big-time names in that category around the league, including WR Vincent Jackson and LB Shawne Merriman of the Chargers, WR Brandon Marshall and DE Elvis Dumervil of the Broncos, Cowboys WR Miles Austin, Texans LB DeMeco Ryans, Colts S Antoine Bethea, Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown, Vikings DE Ray Edwards, Redskins QB Jason Campbell, and Bucs RB Carnell “Cadillac” Williams.
Even if a new CBA was miraculously reached before March 5, the NFL would probably have to implement a transition rule that would apply for those players who were going to be RFAs before the deal was reached but then became UFAs afterward. But with no agreement, the league will enter into an uncapped year and teams will have no spending limit. Keep in mind that teams can release players with no cap consequence in 2010, but it should be noted Mr. T. has already said LB Vernon Gholston, the No. 6 selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, will return.
The Jets are not going to throw money around like they’re printing it down in the equipment room. RB Thomas Jones and S Kerry Rhodes are reportedly due bonuses and there are decisions to be made with both players. Then you’ve got the case of CB Lito Sheppard, who’s reportedly owed a huge contract bonus in March.
“You still have budgets you have to hit. You still have targets that you have to be at,” Tannenbaum said. “Also, we don’t know what the new system will be and you have to be prepared that you can transition from uncapped to capped. I certainly don’t know what [a deal] might look like, so we have to be prepared for that as well.
"These are always tough judgment calls and we will always do what’s best for the Jets.”
Tags: Kerry Rhodes, Leon Washington, Mike Tannenbaum, Roger Goodell, Thomas Jones
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