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National Football League
Draft King Analysis

February 21, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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Earlier this month, the NFL announced that teams could use both the franchise tag and the transition tag on players with expiring contracts. Not surprisingly, the NFLPA has challenged the validity of the NFL's claim, asserting that "the NFL has no valid basis for claiming the right to franchise players in 2011" because of the NFLPA's interpretation that the 2011 season is not covered under the current CBA.

As you might imagine, NFL teams are going with the league's interpretation of the ability to use tags. As of this writing, ten NFL teams have applied the franchise tag, and one of those teams (the Eagles) also have used their transition tag. Of the ten teams that have used the franchise tag, two used the exclusive version of it: the Colts (Peyton Manning) and the Eagles (Michael Vick). That means that Manning and Vick can't negotiate with any other teams. Manning won't make any more money because of being hit with the exclusive version of the tag, but Vick will receive a nice bump-up as a result.

The deadline for assigning franchise tags is Wednesday, February 23. The current CBA is slated to expire at the end of the business day on March 3. Barring a new CBA going into place by then, free agency won't be able to begin. Teams can currently resign their own players who are slated to become free agents, as Oakland did in inking DL Richard Seymour to a new deal recently. But if March 4, 2011 arrives without a new CBA, then the window closes for teams to resign players who were on their roster in 2010 just as it will remain closed for the other 31 teams in the league who might like to sign one or more of them.

One other exception on free agents is the availability of players who have been cut since the season ended. Former Colts SS Bob Sanders, cut by Indianapolis last week, is meeting with the Jaguars today, and he has until the end of business on March 3 to sign a new deal. If he hasn't signed with a new team by then, If there's not a new CBA in place by the time the NFL Draft happens, it will create a unique situation where the draft would take place prior to any free agency. Teams can trade picks but not players, so there can be some wheeling and dealing. But with teams unable to fill need spots without free agency, it could force GMs to make some very tough decisions, especially for teams drafting high that have strong needs at QB.

Rotoworld is a great resource for NFL player contracts, with team-by-team listings that detail upcoming contractual obligations for every player on a given team's roster. It's very interesting to see how many players will be available via free agency if the old standard of four years of NFL experience equating to unrestricted free agency returns under a new CBA.

This past off-season saw a major shift in power, as per the final year of the CBA, where players went from needing four years of experience to become an unrestricted free agent to needing six. This mostly impacted 2005 first-round picks (who mostly signed five-year deals) and 2006 second-rounders and lower who primarily signed four-year contracts. Having the ability to restrict free agents proved, in some cases, to be a motivating factor for players who signed new long-term deals, perhaps most notably what Dallas did by inking OLB DeMarcus Ware to a new seven-year, $79 million ($40 million guaranteed) deal in October 2009.

To point, the shift from four to six years was a driving force behind the 2011 holdouts by Patriots OG Logan Mankins, Chargers OT Marcus McNeill, and Chargers WR Vincent Jackson. All three finally signed one-year tenders in time to get credit for playing in the 2010 season. Since then San Diego signed McNeill to a long-term deal, while both Mankins and Jackson have had the franchise tag placed on them this month for the 2011 season.


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