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Analysis: NFL labor uncertainty and free agency

Ahmad Bradshaw

Ahmad Bradshaw Credit: Getty Images

The uncertainty of when a new NFL labor agreement will be signed may prevent the Jets, Giants and all other NFL teams from signing the free agents they desire.

As the NFL and the NFL Players Association try to agree to terms on an extension of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) before it expires March 4, teams must evaluate whether to re-sign their free agents before that date. Here are three questions that all NFL teams must consider.

Will player salaries be reduced in a new CBA?

Only if the players agree to reduce their near 60 percent share of league revenues, a figure taken before team owners skim roughly $1 billion off the top for expense credits. (Players receive about 50 percent of league revenues after that.)

Andrew Brandt, an NFL business writer for the National Football Post, thinks revenue between players and owners will remain close to 50 percent. “I don’t think there’s going to be a deal where [player] salaries go down,” said Brandt, formerly a contract negotiator for the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles.

Still, don’t assume the Giants will re-sign Ahmad Bradshaw or that the Jets will re-up Santonio Holmes before the March 4 deadline.

“There’s so much uncertainty surrounding not just the terms of the deal but when it will be struck that there is a hesitancy to make any deals now,” said Gabe Feldman, Director of the Sports Law Program at Tulane University.

Will new rookie contract guidelines affect veterans?

The NFL claims rookie contracts have been unnecessarily high for too long. The 2010 No. 1 overall pick, Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams, signed a six-year deal with $50 million guaranteed.

The Players Association has offered to limit rookie contracts to three years — limiting their pay and teams’ obligations to underperforming players. But the union also recommended that 75 percent of the $200 million saved on previously lucrative rookie contracts be funneled toward veteran players’ incentives. The NFL has rejected that, and it’s not a given that veterans will gain what the rookies could lose.

“I do not think a reduction in rookie contracts will make certain that veteran salaries will increase,” said J.I. Halsell, a former salary cap analyst for the Washington Redskins who writes for Football Outsiders.

Brandt views first-year players as having no leverage.

“The rookies are going to be sacrificed; they don’t have a voice,” he said.

How will a new CBA affect teams’ offseason strategies?

Feldman emphasized it’s difficult for teams to make decisions when they don’t know the rules of the game, but Brandt said one element to watch for is a potential flood of free agents compared to last offseason.

Because the 2010 season was set without a salary cap, players needed at least six seasons of experience — rather than the usual four — to become unrestricted free agents last offseason. Players with four or five years' experience were considered restricted.
Under a new CBA, free agents with at least four seasons would likely become unrestricted — creating a clamor for teams to get players signed.

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