With the major portion of free agency over and the rookie draft completed, the NFL offseason has entered its hibernation phase.
With most potential personnel acquisitions likely to have minimal impact, the focus has turned to the grievances that many veteran players have with their contract situations.
Numerous restricted free agents have refused to sign their qualifying offers, and most are not attending organized team activities as a way to protest their contract situations.
However, those players are the exclusive property of their 2009 teams because they failed to sign an offer sheet with another team prior to the April 15 deadline for doing so.
In essence, these players have little to no leverage since their teams are allowed under the collective bargaining agreement to reduce their qualifying offers to 110 percent of their 2009 salaries if they have not signed their qualifying offers by June 15.
In many instances, failing to sign by June 15 could result in salary reductions of more than $20 million. Expect most players to sign by the deadline and report to training camp on time.
In addition, numerous other player issues have cropped up in recent weeks.
Enigmatic Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth is skipping voluntary workouts because he apparently isn’t pleased that the team has switched to a 3-4 defensive alignment and wants Haynesworth to play nose tackle. Or perhaps he doesn’t like spring practices and has found a plausible excuse to avoid them.
In Minnesota, the annual Brett Favre "will he or won’t he play" scenario is unfolding, but most expect him re-sign with the Vikings, likely after training camp has opened.
However, there are only two player situations that have the potential to have a profound impact on their teams' fortunes in 2010, and both involve potential holdouts.
In Tennessee, Chris Johnson has threatened to hold out, and his absence has the potential to derail any playoff aspirations the Titans have. The situation is the same in Houston, where Andre Johnson, the NFL’s most productive receiver over the last two years, is not happy with his contract.
The Titans traded Johnson’s backup (LenDale White) to the Seahawks and have no proven players on the roster to insert in the lineup if Johnson holds out. Second-year player Javon Ringer has a tenuous grasp on the role but did little as a rookie, finishing with only 48 yards rushing.
After that, the players most likely to make the roster are rookie undrafted free agents Stafon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount. Former Jaguar Alvin Pearman is also on the roster, but he has only 58 carries in five years in the league and none over the last three.
It likely doesn’t help matters that Pearman will make more than Johnson in 2010 if he makes the team and Johnson plays under his existing contract.
While the Titans are an organization that typically refuses to budge in player renegotiations, they may have to alter their stance on Johnson. He has clearly outplayed his rookie contract and is the league’s most underpaid player with a scheduled 2010 salary of $550,000.
However, the Titans are hamstrung by the "30 percent rule" in the CBA that limits team’s ability to increase salaries in renegotiated contracts by 30 percent per year. In order to pay Johnson a market value contract, the team would be required to include a huge signing bonus in a renegotiated contract. That may not be a risk they are willing to take.
In Houston, the situation is somewhat different for Andre Johnson, who has watched the eight-year, $60-million contract extension he signed three years ago get obliterated by the recent deals for Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald, and Lee Evans.
However, the Texans have many reasons to turn Johnson down in his request for a new deal. His current contract was signed with Johnson having two years remaining on his five-year rookie contract, he has been paid almost $26 million over the past three years, and the base salaries over the remaining five years of the deal amount to $34.2 million.
While the Texans clearly have the moral authority to turn Johnson down, it’s also easy to conclude that their hopes making the playoffs in 2010 for the first time in the franchise’s history are almost nil without Johnson in the lineup.
The Titans and Texans may be left in a situation of sacrificing their 2010 playoff hopes in order to send the message that they aren’t going to cave in to the contract demands of their star players.
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