SBJ/March 14-20, 2011/Labor and Agents

Agents anticipating a ‘pretty hectic’ free agency period

Liz Mullen
When and if the NFL and NFL Players Association agree to a new collective-bargaining agreement — they were still in talks at press time for this column — the NFL free agency period may have more deals and contain more surprises than any in recent history, NFL agents say.

Free agency usually starts with the new league year, and that point would have come earlier this month in a normal NFL year. But without a renewed CBA, agents and general managers were cooling their heels.

While no one last week knew exactly what the new free agent system would be for players — whether part of an agreed-to deal or if the NFL puts in new rules to operate the league — many agents were expecting that players with four years of service would be able to be free agents.

“If there is a new agreement, it is going to be four years,” said one prominent agent. “The players are not going to give on that.”

This agent added that NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith was very strong on that point during the union’s agent seminar at the NFL combine in Indianapolis last month.

That was the system until last year, the final, uncapped year of the expiring CBA, in which players had to wait six years instead of four to become unrestricted free agents. Players with four and five years of service last year were restricted free agents, and most of them signed one-year tenders.

In a normal year, there would be about 400 unrestricted free agents. If and when there is a new deal, assuming four years to free agency, agents say there could be more than 600 unrestricted free agents on the market.

In sports across the board, stars get paid and get picked first. Some agents think that players who are considered second-tier guys might not get big, multiyear deals in a market flooded with talent and will settle for one-year deals instead. Others say no, because while there will be a lot of free agents on the market, there will be a lot of open job slots, as well. That could bode well for players.

In any case, the longer it takes for the NFL and NFLPA to reach an agreement, the shorter the time frame may be for agents to negotiate any large number of player contracts. “It could be pretty hectic,” said one agent.

Agents asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on CBA negotiations or what a future system might look like.

Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that many star players, such as Peyton Manning, were franchise tagged by their teams. The NFLPA has taken the position that the franchise tags are not enforceable because the designation was made for a year, 2011, in which there is no CBA, while the NFL says the teams have the right to tag players. Whether or not those tags stick could be a matter for litigation if it is not something the league and union can agree on in collective bargaining. 
 
ORNSTEIN SENTENCE DELAYED: NFL insider Mike Ornstein, best known as the former marketing agent to Reggie Bush, is scheduled to report on March 29 to FCC Florence, a federal prison in Florence, Colo., about 90 miles south of Denver, according to an official with the U.S. Marshals office in Cleveland.

A Cleveland federal judge originally ordered that Ornstein report to prison March 3 for the eight months he was sentenced to in November. The Federal Bureau of Prisons inmate locator showed last week that Ornstein was not in Bureau of Prisons custody after previously being listed as “in transit,” which is federal law enforcement terminology for being in the custody of U.S. Marshals.

It was not clear why the reporting date was changed for Ornstein, who was seen in Indianapolis last month for the NFL combine. Many of the court documents in the Ornstein case have been sealed.

Ornstein pleaded guilty last year to two felonies involving scalping Super Bowl tickets and the sale of NFL jerseys falsely advertised as game-worn.
 
CAA SPORTS SIGNS FREESE: CAA Sports has signed David Freese, starting third baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals. He will be represented at CAA by a team of agents, led by Nez Balelo. He was formerly represented by Tannenbaum Sports Management.

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

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