Thursday, July 5, 2012

They Pay Me, They Pay Me Not... Big-Name Free Agents

Teams open their training camps on July 26th, so I thought we’d take a look at some of the big names who might not make an appearance that day.  Why would they be absent?  Well, some of these players are still trying to reach deals with their current teams on new contracts; others are actually on the market, waiting to be bought by new owners.

First, we’ll take a look at players who were labeled with franchise tags by their teams this offseason; then we’ll look at the guys who have had to update their resumes.


As we learned from my husband’s guest post, “The NFL’s March Madness,” each year each team can choose one player that it wants to designate as its “franchise” player.  When a player has this designation, he can’t look for a job with another team; essentially, the team has bought itself more time to negotiate a new contract with a player it doesn’t want to lose.  It could be that the player’s contract has expired, or will expire during the offseason, or it could be that the player just thinks he’s become worth more money and is threatening to take his talent elsewhere.

It is players in either of these situations who you will see “holding out”—meaning that they won’t show up to work (i.e., to training camp, or if the stalemate goes on long enough, regular season games) until a new deal is made.  While everyone is all smiles and hugs when a deal is ultimately worked out, you can’t help but wonder how much damage these protracted contract talks cause in the team-player relationship. 

One of the more infamous holdout cases in recent memory is that of Darrell Revis (left), cornerback for the New York Jets.  In the fourth year of his six-year contract, Revis missed most of the team’s 2010 training camp and all of its preseason games in his efforts to get a new, more lucrative contract.  He finally got what he wanted and reported to camp one week before the regular season, after seven months of bitter exchanges between the two sides through the media—particularly through the HBO series Hard Knocks.  Revis had also held out the first three weeks of training camp before his rookie season; oh, and even though he has been participating in offseason activities so far, he and the Jets are still trying to work out the terms of his new contract, and he has said that he is “undecided” over whether he will report to training camp later this month if a deal hasn’t been reached.

Drew Brees:  Quarterback, New Orleans Saints

The biggest name among the franchise players who haven’t inked a deal with their team is Super Bowl XLIV champ and multiple-MVP honoree Drew Brees.  Under the franchise tag rules, if Brees doesn’t agree to terms with the Saints by July 16, he will be forced to accept a one-year, $16.3 million deal (derived by a formula explained in John’s post). 

Drew Brees is unquestionably one of the league’s premier quarterbacks.  During his six seasons with the Saints, he has led the league in pass completions (2,488), yards (28,394) and touchdowns (201).  His resume includes the records he set this past season for completions, yards and completion percentage; these feats led the Saints to an NFL-record offensive season with 7,474 yards in 2011.  I realize this won’t generate a lot of sympathy for Drew, but his former contract with the Saints, which expired this year and paid him $60 million over ten years ($6 million/year average), isn’t close to being on par with contracts of other top QBs:  Tom Brady gets an average of $18 million a year; Eli Manning $16.25 million a year; and Peyton Manning (three years older than Brees and coming off neck surgery that kept him out for all of 2011) is getting $19.2 million a year with the Denver Broncos.*

"Who dat say you can't pay me more?!?"

Brees’ superiority is evidenced by the fact that this is his second franchise tag; he was designated a franchise player by his first team, the San Diego Chargers, in 2005.  This fact has earned Drew some additional leverage in his negotiations with the Saints:  on July 3rd, an arbitrator ruled that if the Saints hit him with the franchise tag again in 2013, Brees will be entitled to a 44% raise.  This is because of language in the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association that discourages multiple franchise tags on a single player in his career.  The NFL had argued that the policy didn’t apply to them because he had only been tagged once by them; the arbitrator ruled that though the language in the CBA is ambiguous, its clear intent is to prevent players from being unduly restrained in the job market.  Therefore, the Saints can’t use the threat of using the franchise tag again next year in negotiations.

Although protracted holdouts might cause resentment among the players’ teammates, this is unlikely to be the case in New Orleans.  Drew Brees is the undisputed leader and heart of the Saints locker room; he is respected as both a player and member of the greater New Orleans community.  He could show up thirty seconds before kickoff on opening day and he would still get butt-slaps from his teammates and a standing ovation from the Who Dat nation.  And that certainly gives Drew some political leverage.

If Drew decides that the headaches of negotiating a multi-year/multi-million dollar contract are too much, though, he may have another career lined up:  cabbie trivia host!  Observe:

Matt Forte:  Running Back, Chicago Bears

Another holdout story that has gotten a good amount of attention has been the one brewing in Chicago between the Bears and fourth-year running back Matt Forte.  The franchise tag on Forte makes him worth $7.74 million, and he has not been shy about expressing his disappointment in that number this offseason.  He skipped the team’s organized team activities (OTAs) this spring, and is considering holding out of training camp if a deal hasn’t been reached by then. 

Matt Forte was drafted by the Bears in the second round of the 2008 draft.  He became the starting running back after the incumbent back, Cedric Benson, was released.  He had a break-out rookie season, setting a Bears record for most yards in a running back’s debut game; he also finished third in the league in total yards from scrimmage (though he broke Hall of Famer Gale Sayer’s team record in that same category).

Fast-forward to today:  Forte doesn’t have as much leverage as Drew Brees, especially since he suffered a season-ending knee injury last December.  However, with a salary of only $550,000, he still managed to earn 2011 Pro Bowl honors; plus, he was the league’s leading rusher until that injury, making him a bargain—and he claims to be in back in game-ready shape.  Judging from the Bears’ actions in the offseason, though, they don’t seem to be buying what Matt is selling:  adding insult to injury was the team’s signing of free agent running back Michael Bush.  Does Matt have the Forte-tude (sorry) to put his money where his mouth is (or is it the other way around) and stay at home for training camp?  Stay tuned!

Other Notable Franchise Tag Holdouts:

Ray Rice:  Running Back, Baltimore Ravens (left)

Cliff Avril:  Defensive End, Detroit Lions

Josh Scobee:  Kicker, Jacksonville Jaguars


You might also remember from John’s lesson on free agency that a “free agent” is simply someone who is not currently under contract with any team.  Obviously, there are the players coming out of college who weren’t drafted—click here and here to learn about some of these “undrafted free agents” who ended up making it big in the NFL.  Today’s post doesn’t concern these players, though.

Veteran free agents fall into two categories:  those who were cut (read:  fired) by their teams, and those who haven’t been cut but who are shopping for either a new contract with their current clubs, or looking for employment elsewhere.  Below is a listing, by position and with their most recent teams noted, of the bigger names who are still navigating the waters of free agency.


Mark Brunell: no spring chicken...
Mark Brunell:  New York Jets (considering retirement)

Jake Delhomme:  Houston Texans

Dennis Dixon:  Pittsburgh Steelers

A.J. Feeley:  St. Louis Rams

J.P. Losman:  Miami Dolphins

Running Backs:

Ryan Grant (left):  Green Bay Packers (one of the bigger surprises on this list)

Cedric Benson:  Cincinnati Bengals

Kevin Faulk:  New England Patriots

Earnest Graham:  Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Thomas Jones:  Kansas City Chiefs

Chester Taylor:  Arizona Cardinals

Derrick Ward:  Houston Texans

Cadillac Williams:  St. Louis Rams

Wide Receivers:

Dwayne Bowe:  Kansas City Chiefs

Plaxico Burress:  New York Jets

Rashied Davis:  Detroit Lions

Braylon Edwards (right):  cut by the San Francisco 49ers

Anthony Gonzalez:  Indianapolis Colts

T.J. Houshmandzadeh:  Oakland Raiders

Mike Wallace:  Pittsburgh Steelers

Tight Ends:

Anthony Becht:  Kansas City Chiefs

Daniel Graham:  cut by Tennessee Titans

Visanthe Shiancoe:  Minnesota Vikings

Jeremy Shockey (left):  Carolina Panthers (reportedly considering retirement)

Offensive Linemen:

Derrick Dockery, Guard:  Dallas Cowboys

Scott Mruczkowski, Center:  San Diego Chargers

Tony Ugoh, Offensive Tackle:  New York Giants

Casey Wiegmann, Center:  Kansas City Chiefs

Defensive Linemen:

Shaun Ellis, Defensive End (below):  New England Patriots (formerly with New York Jets)

Albert Haynesworth, Defensive Tackle:  cut by Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Keith Brooking:  Dallas Cowboys

Joey Porter (right):  Arizona Cardinals (formerly Pittsburgh Steelers)


Lito Sheppard:  Oakland Raiders

Byron Westbrook:  Washington Redskins


Bob Sanders:  San Diego Chargers


Matt Turk:  Houston Texans (44 years old)


Ryan Longwell:  cut by Minnesota Vikings (37 years old)
Longwell (8) hoisted by teammates after a winning kick

If you want to keep tabs on these and other free agents still on the market, use this link from Yahoo! Sports:  From

*By the way, don’t be surprised to see a Brees-like situation arise soon, like maybe 2013, with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.  Rodgers is still under his original contract with the Packers (remember his Rough Draft in 2005?), which paid him only $7.5 million last year.  This makes him grossly underpaid, especially considering that he recently was voted #1 player in 2012 by NFL players.  The Packers likely wouldn’t have won Super Bowl XLV without him (he won the Super Bowl MVP award) and he leads the league in single-season and career passer ratings and with his interception percentage.  The team’s success under Rodgers’ tenure also provided an opportunity for the Packers to hold a stock sale this past year for the funding of a major expansion of Lambeau Field.

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