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Keeping Chargers' top talent a tall task

Discussion in 'American Football' started by wrbanwal, May 9, 2008.

  1. wrbanwal

    wrbanwal Well-Known Member

    Dec 27, 2005

    As the Chargers prepare to begin negotiations in earnest with several of their star players, both sides will be dealing with an uncertainty looming over the talks.

    With potential – many say likely – labor instability on the horizon, it isn't even known for sure when several Chargers will become free agents.

    “I'm anxious to find out,” one agent said. “I don't know how it's going to affect (negotiations).”

    Sources inside and outside the team said this week that the Chargers will initiate a flurry of contract “activity” in the next month and that talks will continue through the season with numerous players who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in the next three years.

    The Chargers, with an abundance of young, potentially superstar talent, face a period unprecedented in franchise history.

    “They've got a lot of guys (whose contracts expire at the same time),” said one agent. And “ . . . there's not just an average guy in there at his position.”

    As of now, quarterback Philip Rivers, two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill, three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman, defensive end Luis Castillo and receiver Vincent Jackson will be free to sign with other teams after the 2009 season. Four-time Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, a Pro Bowler after an '07 season in which he led the NFL with 10 interceptions, are set to be unrestricted after 2010.

    As one agent asked, almost rhetorically and with certain incredulity, “Do they think they're going to sign all those guys?”

    Gates, 27, is the oldest of those players. Rivers, 26, is the only other one who will be as old as 28 when his current contract expires.

    There is a possible catch. Only Rivers and Gates might actually be unrestricted free agents when they are scheduled to be.

    With the NFL owners possibly (many say probably) deciding to do away with the final two years of the Collective Bargaining Agreement this fall, there exists the possibility the Chargers will not have as many unrestricted free agents as expected as soon as expected.

    The owners have until November to chop the final two years off the CBA, which means it would expire after 2010 and that 2009 would be the last year with a salary cap. The owners could also eliminate the final year (2012) with a vote by November 2009.

    The Players Association could choose to do away with the CBA, as well, but the players are more satisfied with the current deal.

    The owners' chief issue is that the CBA, negotiated in 2006, guarantees players 59 percent of league revenues, up from 51 percent.

    The elimination of two years would extend the time players needed to earn unrestricted free agency. Instead of four years, a player would need six accrued seasons to be unrestricted.

    That means that instead of Merriman becoming unrestricted following the '09 season, he would not be so until after 2010. Ditto Castillo and Jackson.

    McNeill would have to wait two more years, until 2011. Cromartie would have his unrestricted status pushed back a year, to '11.

    Additionally, in an uncapped situation, teams would receive an extra transition tag to place on a player, which would certainly help the Chargers, with so many top players possibly headed to the market.

    “You've got to think that (regardless of happenings with the CBA) in two of those years they're going to use the franchise tag,” one agent said.

    Many players have been advised to prepare for a lockout in 2011, so it is on the minds of those who advise them. And the thought of having to wait an extra year or two to become unrestricted does make players and agents hope for labor peace. But the pending CBA troubles, most agents contacted said, would not have a major impact on getting deals done.

    “It's always something to think about,” one agent said. “But it's still early.”

    Said another: “It's definitely a factor (in negotiations). I still think you want to get as much as you can as soon as you can. If something made sense, if a deal is right, I don't think you can put a guy at risk for a year or two just because he might get more (in an uncapped year).”

    Agents said the big issue with the possibility of a work stoppage is the structure of guaranteed money in any contract done between now and '11.

    The half-dozen agents quoted for this story, all with at least one Chargers player as a client, did not want to be named, for fear of reprisal from teams. And Chargers officials declined comment on the CBA because of a mandate from the league that all quotes about labor issues come from the league.

    Asked about the upcoming contract talks, General Manager A.J. Smith used his standard line, that the Chargers “don't discuss our football business.” But sources said he and Assistant GM Ed McGuire have been plotting for a month their strategy with the list of players they'd like to redo.

    Really, the Chargers have been preparing for this for some time.

    It's part of the reason they have left themselves with so much cap room this year, with about $15.5 million to spare. They still have their draft picks to sign, which will eat about $3 million. With $12 million or so, they have plenty of wiggle room in structuring contract extensions.

    It's a good thing. Theirs is a unique situation born of their own ability to hit on draft picks.

    “You don't see that very much,” one agent said. “It really is a tribute to A.J. and his staff. . . . Now they're going to pay for a little bit of their success.”

    And, the agent said, “Who the agent is plays a little part in that.”

    As for the players involved and their high-powered agents, particularly Jimmy Sexton (Rivers and McNeill) and Tom Condon (Gates and Merriman), Smith was typically defiant.

    “Really, for us, it doesn't make any difference,” Smith said. “We decide what players we want to continue with, how much the contract will be and for how many years. Our hope, of course, is that the player and agent are happy with our contract offer and sign.

    “The player could be represented by his next door neighbor, and it does not change our position. But, of course, for the players, they would want top-notch professional agents working on their behalf.”

    That doesn't mean Smith is not aware he won't be able to sign everybody, in part because a few of the players will want more money than the Chargers are willing to pay.

    “A few of those players aren't taking anything less (to stay in San Diego),” said one agent, who also indicated his client(s) should be considered among those. “That's just a fact. They're not going to keep everybody.”

  2. Retired Catholic

    Retired Catholic BoltTalker

    Aug 3, 2006
    My priorities are first Merriman and Rivers. We can Franchise McNeil or transition him to get a chance to match the offer or get draft choices. I franchise or transition Castillo, depending on what is done with McNeil. VJ we can negotiate with. I repeat the process the following year with Gates and Cromartie. This assuming that negotiations that begin before hand don't result in contracts or that the agreement isn't given the deep six. Meanwhile, all those positions become draft priorities.

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