Oldskool Posted February 22, 2006 Share Posted February 22, 2006 http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/draft06/columns/story?columnist=clayton_john&id=2339249&lpos=spotlight&lid=tab3pos1 Updated: Feb. 22, 2006, 2:04 PM ET Labor pains could obscure on-field news Clayton By John Clayton ESPN.com click this INDIANAPOLIS -- Forgive NFL general mangers for being a little distracted right now. They have a good excuse. Aside from getting ready to interview, test and pick apart the top college prospects for the April draft, NFL general managers and coaches are converging on Indianapolis for a scouting combine like no other. In the background are negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement that could determine the future of the NFL as we know it. If the NFL doesn't get a CBA extension by March 3, the start of free agency, it could be on the way to not having a draft in 2008. The NFL players' association has said that if it doesn't get a labor agreement, it will decertify after the CBA expires in 2008, and if it does that, the antitrust laws will apply. The NFLPA believes the NFL won't have the ability to draft players. NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw reminded everyone at the Super Bowl that there is a clause in the current CBA that says the draft is done after the CBA expires. The 2006 combine is a combination of stress, frustration and panic. Fifteen teams are over the cap as of Feb. 22, and they have nine days to get under the cap with the toughest challenge so far. Starting March 3, rules will change if the CBA isn't extended, making it even harder for those teams to get under the cap. Because 2006 could be a transition year to no cap in 2007, the rules will change slightly, taking a lot of money out of the free agency pool. Teams will lose between $2.5 million and $5 million of cap room because of the transition. Because there would be no cap in 2007, teams would have to take hits on the 2006 cap for players who are released from multi-year contracts. With no cap in 2007, teams wouldn't be able to use the traditional June 1 cut day to release players with high cap numbers and push the cap hit off to the next season. With no cap in 2007, all incentives would count immediately. They would eat up cap room, making it extremely difficult for teams to figure out how much they can spend this year in free agency. Owners are conferring with other and meeting with the union in Indianapolis. Agents are meeting with the union to seek guidance on how to do deals in an uncertain time. It should be a wild stretch, and here are 10 things to watch from Indianapolis, not all of them draft related: 1. Labor negotiations: By Friday, a date Upshaw has set as a deadline for getting a deal done, everyone should have a good idea of whether the NFL is heading for labor problems or labor peace. First, owners have to settle among themselves on a revenue sharing plan. Once that happens, the NFL and the NFLPA can settle on a percentage of total gross revenues that will go to the players. Upshaw has been reluctant to extend the start of free agency past March 3, so everything comes down to the next couple of days. On Friday, Upshaw conducts his biggest agent seminar. He holds a seminar at every combine and agents must attend one of the national seminars to stay certified. By Friday, Upshaw will tell agents what rules to work under for 2006. If there is an extension, the cap could jump from the scheduled $92 million to $102 million. If not, dollars will be tight and negotiations will be tough. Big deals are hard to structure because of a 30-percent rule that would apply if there is no cap in 2007. Any contract that extends into an uncapped year limits the increase of a player's base salary to 30 percent a year. That kills the teams over the cap because they can't negotiate simple replacement deals in which they replace base salary with signing bonuses. The base salaries can increase only 30 percent a year, so teams would have to negotiate two or three years of reductions. It will be harder for teams to free up money under the cap because of that. 2. The Cutler push: Yes, there is a draft this year, so teams looking for quarterbacks will be studying the workout of Jay Cutler. Matt Leinart and Vince Young are expected to delay their workouts until next month because they are expected to go in the top three to five selections. Cutler is trying to sell his strong, powerful arm, so he has more incentive to work out. If he puts on a show, it's not out of the question for him to be a consideration for the Jets at No. 4. More teams will be watching Cutler, who went into the offseason as a mid- first-round pick but is seeing his stock rise. Quarterbacks such as Drew Brees (Chargers), Daunte Culpepper (Vikings), Kerry Collins (Raiders), Chad Pennington (Jets), Brian Griese (Buccaneers), Joey Harrington (Lions), Aaron Brooks (Saints) and Patrick Ramsey (Redskins) could be on the move. Some of those teams will be looking for young replacements. Cutler's arm could be one of the most exciting things to come out of the combine. 3. Running back scramble: There are four first-round running back prospects: Reggie Bush and LenDale White of USC, DeAngelo Williams of Memphis and Laurence Maroney of Minnesota. In free agency, Shaun Alexander, Jamal Lewis, Edgerrin James, DeShaun Foster, Ahman Green and Chester Taylor are available, and a team willing to give up a good draft choice could get T.J. Duckett out of Atlanta. Does a team want a big back or a little back? The NFL seems to be excited about smaller backs, thanks to the success of Tiki Barber, Brian Westbrook and others. Bush, Williams and Maroney are 210 pounds or less. White and Lewis are the biggest backs available. Teams will study the four first-round prospects for the backfield and compare them with the cost of the top free agents. 4. Wide receivers: This will be an important combine for the wide receivers. At the Senior Bowl, receivers dropped about as many balls as they caught, and there are some teams that wonder whether there is a first-round wide receiver. The best of the crop are Santonio Holmes of Ohio State and Sinorice Moss of Miami, brother of Redskins star Santana Moss. Both receivers are fast and they catch the ball well, but they aren't very big. Holmes is 5-foot-11, 190 pounds. Moss is 5-8, 183. The free agency crop of wide receivers isn't thrilling, so teams will be studying them even closer than usual this week. With Reggie Wayne expected to be franchised, the top free agent receivers are Antwaan Randle El of the Steelers, Antonio Bryant of the Browns and David Givens of the Patriots. Some teams may question whether to pay them $4 million a year, but a thin class of top wide receiver prospects in the draft may keep their price up. 5. Finding the second-best tackle: D'Brickashaw Ferguson established himself during the Virginia season and the all-star games as the best left tackle since Robert Gallery. Recent drafts have been skimpy for tackles taken in the first round. This is a good crop, but there is a decent battle to see who is the No. 2 tackle. Among the candidates are Winston Justice of USC, Marcus McNeill of Auburn, Eric Winston of Miami and Jonathan Scott of Texas. Justice is trying to lock himself into being a top-10 choice. Winston has to show that he has fully healed after an ACL tear in 2004 that affected him in 2005. Scott is a left tackle with great athletic skills and comes from an NFL family. His father, Ray, played defensive end for the Jets. McNeill is 6-8, 335 pounds. 6. Run or not run?: That's always the debate at the combine. More players ran last year, and there were plenty of lessons learned from those who lost value by not running. Agents tend to talk their players into waiting until the individual workouts to run. The problem with that is that a bad day can kill their draft stock. Those who run in Indianapolis tend to get better grades, and they have a chance to recover if they don't run well. The classic story is Nathan Vasher, cornerback of the Bears. Vasher didn't run at Indy and had a bad time on the indoor track at Texas. His stock went from second round to fourth round. Clearly, he was a second-rounder, if not better. He went to the Pro Bowl last season, but not with the salary he might have made, if he had run in Indy. 7. Cap relief renegotiations: Every hotel lobby and restaurant in downtown Indy will be filled with agents meeting with teams over renegotiations. The teams that will have the toughest time getting under the cap without a CBA extension are the Redskins and the Chiefs. The Redskins are $25 million over. The Chiefs are $20 million over. Most of the other teams that are over the cap have players whose releases create a lot of cap room. The 30-percent rule makes it harder for teams to do cap relief deals and may force them to cut more players to get under the cap. The reason the 30-percent rule is tough is because a player who takes a salary cap reduction will also have to reduce his future pay to fit the 30-percent increases. This will force more teams to do creative deals with voids that could result in their losing the player in 2007 just to get under the cap. 8. Franchise and transition tags: By Thursday, teams have to designate franchise and transition players. The Jets franchised defensive end John Abraham Tuesday. Among the other possible franchise players are Bills cornerback Nate Clements, Seahawks guard Steve Hutchinson, Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne and Lions left tackle Jeff Backus. The Ravens are still debating whether to franchise halfback Jamal Lewis. The Saints are leaning against franchising center LeCharles Bentley. The Chargers decided not to franchise Brees, and the 49ers won't franchise linebacker Julian Peterson. The threat of the franchise tag often leads to some deals, so a couple of top free agents could get new deals before Thursday evening. 9. Trade market: The foundation of offseason trades often begins at the combine. The Redskins need to find a home for Ramsey. The Vikings are trying to trade Culpepper. More names may be available because teams may cut more players to get under the cap. The Randy Moss trade was finalized as everyone arrived at the combine last year, so everyone will be on their toes for other big deals this year. 10. Terrell Owens watch: No NFL function would be official unless Terrell Owens is involved in the conversation. The Eagles are expected to release Owens before the start of free agency, so his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, will be working the lobbies this week trying to find a new home for his client. The Broncos are the only team that brought Owens in for a visit, and they definitely are players in the Owens sweepstakes. It's considered a weak draft for wide receivers and free agency isn't much better. That should help give Owens some momentum. Regardless of the problems Owens causes in the locker room, he's an impact player who can catch between 80 and 100 passes in a season. John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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