For now, business as usual — mostly

Posted by Darren Urban on February 14, 2011 – 9:55 am

Last week, the scouts for the Cardinals all came to Tempe for their normal pre-combine meetings. The pro personnel department still is meeting daily to talk about potential free agents, and coaches are prepping as if there will be a minicamp after the April draft. At this point, they can’t do anything else.

Obviously, there is a lot of talk of what is — and what isn’t — being accomplished between the NFL owners and players when it comes to a new collective bargaining agreement. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel pessimistic about a work stoppage. But until there actually is such a thing, each team (including the Cardinals) has to prep like free agency, for example is going to start at 10 p.m. Arizona time the night of March 3.

(Draft prep wouldn’t change anyway, because there will be a draft regardless — although it will be interesting to see if the back part of the draft changes at all. Since no players would be able to sign a contract in the event of a lack of a CBA, there would be no undrafted rookie classes until that was worked out. Each team would have their draft picks, and every other rookie would remain in limbo.)

Because there is prepping as usual, I suppose in that light it still makes sense to speculate about trades, like the fact Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb now is on record as saying he’d like for the Cardinals to be a part of trade talks for him. So speculation and preparation will remain. Until it doesn’t.

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Expiring minds want to know

Posted by Darren Urban on June 30, 2010 – 10:02 am

If the NBA has the Summer of 2010, the NFL – right now – is staring at the Summer of 2011.

The lack of a new collective bargaining agreement and the possibility of a work stoppage after the 2010 season has slowed the talk of contract extensions throughout the league. Judgments aside, that’s just a fact. Teams and players don’t know what free agency will look like next March (or later; until a new CBA is put in place, there will be no free agency movement). It’ll affect every team around the league. That is also a fact.

Closer to home, though, it looks like it’ll make for one, um, let’s say interesting offseason for the Cardinals. Here are the key players on the team right now who are not under contract past 2010 and are scheduled to have their contracts expire after this season:

  • P Ben Graham
  • WR Steve Breaston
  • S Matt Ware
  • CB Michael Adams
  • RB Jason Wright
  • RB Tim Hightower
  • LB Monty Beisel
  • C Lyle Sendlein
  • G Alan Faneca
  • T Brandon Keith
  • G Reggie Wells
  • G Deuce Lutui
  • DT Alan Branch
  • WR Early Doucet
  • TE Anthony Becht
  • TE Ben Patrick
  • DE Kenny Iwebema
  • DT Bryan Robinson
  • DT Gabe Watson

Obviously, some players are more important that others. Some may not even make the roster this season. And some figure to be still under restricted FA status next season even with a new CBA (guys like Doucet, Keith and Iwebema, for instance). But again, you don’t know how it turns out. That also doesn’t include three major key players who, while all under contract through 2011, will need extensions by next offseason to make sure they stay in Arizona: WR Larry Fitzgerald, DL Darnell Dockett and (assuming he plays as the Cards hope) QB Matt Leinart.

It’s quite the list. I find it hard to believe, if there is a delay in free agency that there won’t be some short moratorium to let teams get their FA ducks in a row before the market is flooded with UFAs. But you never know.

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The Cards’ place in the rule of eight

Posted by Darren Urban on February 11, 2010 – 11:00 am

As free agency creeps closer, I wanted to clarify the Cardinals’ spot in the relatively confusing “Final Eight” plan. While it does technically prohibit those teams from getting a big-name free agent until those teams lose one first, there is a fairly significant loophole for the teams that lost in the Divisional round — the Cowboys, Chargers, Ravens and of course, the Cardinals. For those teams, they can sign as many free agents as they want as long as the first-year salary doesn’t exceed $3.7 million. UPDATE: According to the CBA, the teams that lost in the divisional round can ink one player for a first-year salary of $4.92 million, which, with the increase in money for players over the past few years, is about $5.5 million now.

Now, that hamstrings a team to a point, because there is also a rule that says the salaries can’t increase by more than 30 percent each year. So if you max out at $3.7 million, you can’t suddenly give the guy $10 million in year No. 2 to make up for it. In theory, a team could just throw more money into the signing bonus, but I am guessing — given the economic and labor climate — not many teams are going to be willing to do that.

But here is the other kicker: With the rules in place that will make many, many guys who were supposed to be unrestricted instead restricted, there aren’t going to be a whole lot of guys out there worth more than $3.7 million in salary anyway.

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Deciphering the uncapped year

Posted by Darren Urban on January 20, 2010 – 10:49 am

As we close in on free agency and what looks like a year without a salary cap — and then, a possible work stoppage in 2011 — the rules for free agency have changed. I’ve already touched on this of course, but the league has now put out a release putting in relatively simple terms what it all means in the short-term. I’ve put the release here as a link for anyone who’d like to sort through it. The biggest news I was not aware of? There will be a draft in 2011 even if a new CBA isn’t in place.

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Final eight berth changes free agency UPDATE

Posted by Darren Urban on January 12, 2010 – 6:37 am

The Cardinals’ playoff win — plus the looming uncapped year given the impending end of the collective bargaining agreement — will affect the Cardinals in free agency.

Assuming there is no new CBA before free agency (and there likely won’t be), the NFL will have a season without a salary cap in 2010. The change also brings with it various rules that were designed to forced the two sides to the bargaining table in order to avoid a work stoppage in 2011. One was a limit on free agency for the top eight teams (the theory being, that way, the rich couldn’t get richer). Teams in the “Final Eight Plan” (page 76 77 of the official CBA), which are all the teams now remaining in the playoffs, can’t sign a new free agent unless they lose one, and then that player’s salary can’t be greater than the one the former player is getting.

What that means is the Cards could chase a big-ticket player if, say, LB Karlos Dansby leaves for big money. But if Dansby is waiting around and, for example, kicker Neil Rackers (also an FA-to-be) leaves for a less-than-huge deal, the Cards can’t make any kind of splash yet.

It will definitely make maneuvering the offseason more difficult. Then again, no one would trade a place in the Divisional round of the playoffs for the alternative.

UPDATE: There are a few questions below and I thought the best way to address them would be to throw in a couple more details: The uncapped year also makes it harder to become a an unrestricted free agent, meaning a player has to have six years in the NFL to avoid restricted status. That impacts two main contributors for the Cards: guard Deuce Lutui and nose tackle Gabe Watson. Each were scheduled to be unrestricted after their fourth season and now, they likely won’t have that option.

Rules like that will cut down on the amount of available free agents anyway, making the “Final Eight” rule less important, but, if I read the rule correctly, it’s a one-to-one swap; i.e., if Dansby signs a  deal worth $5 million in salary elsewhere, you can’t then sign two guys for $2.5 million each. A team can re-sign all its own players, by the way, regardless if it is in the Final Eight or not.

Also, all teams get a franchise tag and two transition tags a transition tag for players, rather than just one (choosing between a franchise or transition tag). That will also restrict movement. There are further details here (HT to Sando). Ultimately, what it all means is that free agency isn’t going to be much of anything this year, and players are going to realize a salary cap situation is probably the best for them.

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