Thursday, October 15, 2009
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NFL owners put off creating free agency window

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[October 15, 2009]  BOSTON (AP) -- Free agency rules will change if the NFL has no salary cap for the 2010 season, and team owners opted not to add to potential uncertainty by bringing an anti-tampering measure to the table.

The owners offered a proposal to create an offseason window when teams can negotiate with free agents even before the players actually become available. The idea is not dead and will be discussed at next March's winter meetings -- weeks after free agency is scheduled to begin.

RestaurantAnd with no new collective bargaining agreement with the players union in place, next season will be an uncapped year -- albeit with further restrictions on player movement.

"We've been discussing this for two to three years and haven't vetted it enough to make sure we've got the right system," said Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee and president of the Atlanta Falcons. "We'll continue to look at it and bring it up again."

McKay said the owners prefer stricter enforcement of current tampering rules.

"The anti-tampering rules have served us well," he said. "We hold onto the idea of let's enforce these rules."


Currently, a free agent can negotiate with his current team until free agency begins. But, as McKay cryptically noted, there have been violations.

"People have always hung on to the idea of 'We have rules, let's enforce them.' But they're very hard to enforce," he said. "I don't necessarily put all the blame on the clubs. There's another group at work here, a group that is not necessarily under our control."

That group would be player agents, many of whom consider stretching the rules part of the free agent game.

Last March, the Titans sent information to the league that the Redskins might have contacted Albert Haynesworth and his agent, Chad Speck, before free agency began Feb. 27. No charges were brought, however.

Haynesworth signed a seven-year, $100 million contract with Washington that included $41 million in guaranteed money.

Recently, the NFL began investigating whether the New York Jets tampered with San Francisco's first-round draft choice, Michael Crabtree, during his lengthy holdout. The wide receiver signed with the 49ers earlier this month.

"They are difficult to enforce because you want to be certain you have a violation before you take any action," commissioner Roger Goodell said.

"I think there could be a change in the future, but at the end of the day the clubs focused on ... we have rules in place and don't make any modification to it. There's no consensus on what modifications we should make and what the impact might be."

Goodell said another negotiating session with the NFL Players Association is scheduled for next week. The sides have met several times, but no major economic negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement have occurred.

If 2010 winds up being an uncapped season, there could be some confusion for players.

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"With the restrictions in place, the game will be really at the same level it has been in the past several years," Goodell said. "Quality is what we focus on and I don't see it being impacted.

"But I think there will be changes that affect players. There won't be team (salary) minimums, (unrestricted) free agency will go from four years to six. There are lot of factors that will affect the dynamics."

The owners also met with George Martin, who has been hired by the NFL Alumni Association, a group that plans to be the lone voice for retired players. Those players have had their representation fragmented by many groups, and Goodell believes working with one organization will be a positive development.

"One thing I've heard coming out of meetings with retired players was that they want an independent organization that is focused entirely on retired players," Goodell said. "Now we can have an entity that is independent that can identify issues that are priorities for retired players.

"Retired players are an asset. They're wonderful ambassadors for the game, they mean so much to fans. To be able to cooperate with them to provide opportunities for them, this is a great development for us."

[Associated Press; By BARRY WILNER]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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