Free-agent status at risk for 212 players

Updated: December 30, 2009, 3:16 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Miles Austin of Dallas, Brandon Marshall of Denver and six other Pro Bowl picks are among more than 200 NFL players who would lose their status as unrestricted free agents this offseason if the league and its union can't agree on a new labor contract.

According to a list obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday, there are 212 players who would be considered restricted free agents -- instead of unrestricted -- if there is no salary cap in 2010. There is at least one player from each of the NFL's 32 teams on the list.

In an uncapped year, a player would need at least six years in the NFL, up from the current minimum of four years in the league, to be an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team.

Pro Bowl linebackers Elvis Dumervil of Denver and DeMeco Ryans of Houston are in the group of potentially affected players, as are starting quarterbacks Kyle Orton of Denver and Jason Campbell of Washington.

"Free agency's always been something for the players, always been a great thing. If you get one crack at free agency as a player, that's what you dream of," Orton said before Denver practiced Wednesday. "How it stands right now ... guys aren't going to be able to have that dream, to be a free agent. That's a shame for the players, I think."

In an uncapped year, a player would need at least six years in the NFL, up from the current minimum of four years in the league, to be an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team.

Dallas receiver Austin was aware his free agency status could change, but said he wouldn't consider his breakout season bad timing.

"I can't control any of that," he said. "I've just got to stay focused on the things I can control, and that's playing this week and playing hard."

The other players announced Tuesday as selections for this season's Pro Bowl who could find themselves missing out on a chance to cash in this offseason are Packers safety Nick Collins, Patriots guard Logan Mankins, Saints guard Jahri Evans and Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver.

In addition to the NFL's sacks leader (Dumervil), and the NFC's leader in yards receiving (Austin), other prominent names on the list include Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, Jets receiver Braylon Edwards, Colts safety Antoine Bethea, Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown and Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

"If you're a guy that's been in the league a long time, and you know you're pretty much set, you probably have a different opinion about it. But if you're a guy that's in my position, it's going to affect us not just short term but long term," Washington's Campbell said.

If they lose out on the chance to become unrestricted free agents this offseason, players might not get what they were expecting to be a huge payoff. They also won't have the luxury of moving freely anywhere in the league.

A restricted free agent's old club gets a chance to offer the player a one-year contract at different levels of pay that determine what level of draft-choice compensation the old club would receive for losing the player. And the old club has the right to match any offer another club makes to a restricted free agent.

"If you're a free agent, of course you've got a lot of options, but if you're a restricted free agent, it's pretty much the team's choice, depending on what they want to do," Campbell said.

Other rules changes would go into effect if there is no salary cap in 2010. There would be no minimum or maximum amounts teams could spend on payroll, and each club would get an extra "transition player" tag. A "transition player" must be offered a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of the prior season at the player's position or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, whichever is greater.

"All of a sudden, your rules change," said Campbell, one of seven Redskins players on the list. "That's the situation I've been dealt and so have other guys on the team."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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