Team guards against Ogunleye holding out

Originally Published: June 16, 2004
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

The Miami Dolphins have raised the stakes in negotiations with restricted free agent defensive end Adewale Ogunleye by lowering the ante, a prerogative afforded them by the collective bargaining agreement.

As anticipated, the Dolphins on Tuesday reduced their qualifying offer to the three-year veteran from the original high-level tender of $1.824 million to $412,500. The team made the initial offer in March, to retain a right of first refusal, in the event another team signed Ogunleye to an offer sheet. The CBA permits a team to reduce a qualifying offer to 110 percent of a restricted free agent's base salary from the previous season -- if the player has not signed by June 15.

Ogunleye, who led the AFC with 15 sacks last season, had a $375,000 base salary in 2003.

General manager Rick Spielman called the maneuver a "business decision," saying the Dolphins had to do it to protect themselves against a possible long holdout by Ogunleye, who has not participated in any of Miami's offseason workouts. Miami recoups more than $1.4 million on its salary cap total by reducing the qualifying offer.

How the gambit affects the climate of these rollercoaster negotiations, which agent Drew Rosenhaus last week declared at an impasse, remains to be seen.

"A lot of people are overreacting," said Spielman, explaining a decision Ogunleye and Rosenhaus knew was coming anyway and which ought to have no bearing on future discussions if the sides continue to seek a long-term agreement.

"Since we were never going to sign a one-year deal, (reducing the qualifying offer) is irrelevant, really," Rosenhaus said.

The decision to lower it came only a few weeks after both sides expressed guarded optimism that a deal could be reached, and after Ogunleye, 26, recently used a team banquet -- at which he was named the Dolphins' most valuable player -- to lobby Miami officials in attendance to get negotiations moving in a positive direction.

Rosenhaus reiterated that, absent a long-term contract, Ogunleye will sit out the first part of the season. He would sign the one-year deal after seven games, providing him enough time to be on the active roster long enough to qualify for his fourth season toward the NFL pension. Doing so would make Ogunleye eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring when, Rosenhaus said, "There are teams that will be waiting with open arms."

Ogunleye and his representatives are seeking a long-term deal commensurate to those signed the last two years by Jevon Kearse and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.

In a deal negotiated by Rosenhaus, Kearse two months ago left the Tennessee Titans to sign an eight-year contract for $66 million ($16 million was paid upfront) with the Philadelphia Eagles. Last spring, Gbaja-Biamila received an $11 million signing bonus as part of a seven-year, $37.1 million contract to re-sign with the Green Bay Packers as a restricted free agent.

In 2002, his first as a starter at left end, the former Indiana University star had 9 sacks. Before the draft it appeared that a few teams, most notably Chicago and Minnesota, might be interested in trading for Ogunleye, but talks never reached the substantive point.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.