Nothing special about June 1
June 1 used to be an important offseason date on the NFL calendar. But that's no longer the case, explains Len Pasquarelli.
Among the "this day in history" entries for the date June 1 are items as diverse as Lou Gehrig replacing Wally Pipp at first base for the New York Yankees and beginning his incredible streak of 2,130 straight games (1925), the death of Helen Keller (1968), the debut of the Lawrence Welk Orchestra (1949), Nolan Ryan's fourth no-hitter (1975) and the release of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1967).
Nowhere on any of the most popular Internet search engines -- and you can Google your little heart away looking -- will a person unearth much more than superficial reference to the significance of June 1 on the NFL calendar. And given the current trend, there are apt to be even fewer such citations in the future.
Once a red-letter event for teams seeking to pursue veteran players who were pink-slipped late in the spring, June 1 suddenly has become just another slow day during what is one of the grayest times of the NFL year. Personnel chiefs only a few years ago would circle June 1 on the calendar to remind them it was either time to dump guys with bloated salaries and declining production or to begin chasing dumpees from other teams. But that isn't the case much anymore.
There won't be many so-called "cap casualties" after June 1 this year, but here are a few veterans who might get pink slips:
• WR David Patten, Washington: The nine-year veteran signed a five-year, $13 million deal with the Redskins last spring that included a $3.5 million signing bonus. But Patten played in just nine games and posted only 22 receptions for 217 yards, with two touchdowns. The acquisitions of veterans Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El this spring means Patten is probably no better than a No. 4 or No. 5 receiver. And his 2006 base salary of $1.085 million is a little pricey for that role.
• LB Dexter Coakley, St. Louis: With a $1.5 million base salary for 2006, Coakley could find it tough to keep his job if the new Rams staff decides the younger Brandon Chillar is a better fit on the weakside. The classy Coakley is a terrific leader, but he played in just 12 games in 2006 because of injuries and posted only 38 tackles after signing a five-year, $14 million contract.
• DE Bobby Hamilton, Oakland: The 12-year veteran is 34 years old and, while he remains a solid enough player versus the run, the Raiders want to get former first-rounder Tyler Brayton on the field more now that they have ended his experiment at linebacker. Hamilton is due a $1.335 million base salary.
• LB Kailee Wong, Houston: The switch to the 4-3 could hurt Wong, because it means one fewer starting spot, and the Texans have upgraded their depth at the position. Houston signed Wong to a four-year contract extension last summer and his total deal was worth $17.65 million. One consideration: Wong suffered a season-ending patella tendon injury after just five games in 2006, and, for grievance reasons, the Texans might have to wait until he is fully rehabilitated if they choose to release him.
In fact, on Thursday, probably the most notable departure from the league will be that of Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly, who resigned three weeks ago and set June 1 as his final day on the job. There may be a few veteran salary-cap casualties in the days that follow, but not nearly the volume there was earlier in the free agency/salary cap era, and certainly not the relative quality.
"The whole June 1 thing was never the [panacea] fans made it out to be and was really pretty overrated, to tell the truth," said Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome. "But there would maybe be a handful of guys every year who would [pique] your curiosity and might be able to help some team. The way things are now, though, I don't know that we'll have a handful of players cut, period. And there certainly won't be any of the name players we've seen in the past. It's not meaningless, June 1, but it isn't what it was."
What the date represented in the past was a mechanism for teams to unload overpriced veteran players and, by waiting until after June 1, to lessen the impact on that season's salary cap.
Example: Let's say a team signed a player to a five-year contract that included a $10 million signing bonus, but after two seasons of the deal determined he no longer fit their plans and wanted to release him. Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the team would be charged $6 million against its cap, the remaining prorated share of the signing bonus, if he was released before June 1. But by delaying the release until after June 1, the team would be charged only $2 million against its current cap, with the $4 million balance carrying over into the following season's spending limit.
The other reason some players were released around June 1 was because they had roster bonuses built into their contracts that were payable early that month. To avoid paying the roster bonuses to players who were no longer productive, teams would simply release them.
But that was the case a few years ago. Now, contracts are often structured in a manner that precludes the floodgates from bursting open June 1 and emptying dozens of viable veterans into the free-agent market.
Historically, most of the veterans released into free agency had more name than game and caused more excitement among fans than in personnel departments leaguewide. But there were always two or three veterans capable of filling a glaring void on some teams' rosters and of making a difference. The players who figure to be cast into free agency this June don't even possess much name value.
"Everyone in the game -- general managers, cap guys, agents, players -- has gotten smarter the longer we've been in the [free agency] system," acknowledged agent Jimmy Sexton. "And the contracts being negotiated usually reflect that. People have learned to deal with the June 1 thing to the point where it's almost become a nonissue. Guys who would have been cut in June a few years ago are getting cut in March now."
One thing that agents began to do was to negotiate earlier roster bonuses for clients, with payments due in March, not June. The maneuver forces a club to make a decision on a player earlier in the spring, at the outset of the free-agency period, when teams have more money to spend. If a team opts to release the player rather than pay the roster bonus, at least the veteran is nudged into the free-agent market at a time when he might not be forced to accept a minimum salary deal. The later into the market, the less room to negotiate, because franchises are usually up against the cap limit in June.
And since teams have become more cap-conscious (although not necessarily fiscally responsible), more clubs are able to release unproductive players before June 1, because salary caps can better accommodate the cap hit earlier in the year. Therefore, many players who traditionally would have been released in June are now handed their walking papers three months earlier.
One player who probably would have been released after June 1, Philadelphia defensive tackle Paul Grasmanis, retired last week. Another, New York Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet, also is expected to retire before the start of training camp. Former Washington linebacker LaVar Arrington, whose contract was such that he would have been a prime candidate for a post-June 1 release, essentially bought his freedom from the Redskins in March by forfeiting $4.4 million in deferred signing-bonus money.
Finally, the recent extension to the collective bargaining agreement has provided teams with one more vehicle for releasing players earlier. Clubs now can designate one player per year who can be released before June 1, but with the team still able to claim post-June 1 cap advantages. Some observers believe the New York Giants may have utilized that tool with last week's release of cornerback Will Peterson, who still had four seasons remaining on his contract.
It's important to remember, too, that not every player released after June 1 should be termed a salary-cap casualty. Technically, only those players with more than one year remaining on their contract qualify for such unofficial status. Why so? Because a team essentially gains no edge by waiting until after June 1 to cut a player with just one season left on his contract.
San Diego, for instance, could release linebacker Donnie Edwards, who has been on the trading block all spring, after June 1 and gain back the $3.55 million base salary he is due for 2006. But the Chargers would have realized the same gain no matter when they released Edwards in the offseason. That further reduces the already lean number of pending post-June 1 cap casualties.
The upshot is that any team planning to go shopping in the June free-agent market is apt to find mostly empty shelves.
"I think, in any year, a team that is banking on getting some help from the June 1 cuts is deluded," said the director of pro personnel for one NFC franchise. "Teams that think they're going to get any kind of help this year are even crazier ... because there's no help coming."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .