More money means fewer June 1 cuts
Changes to the CBA and a larger salary cap are two of the main reasons that June 1 won't see a large number of players released onto the open market, writes Len Pasquarelli.
Once considered a significant day in the NFL, because it typically signaled the infusion of a second wave of high-profile veteran players into the unrestricted free agent market, June 1 has been rendered all but irrelevant now on the league calendar.
"It's definitely not a day you circle anymore, if that's what you mean," said Detroit Lions president Matt Millen. "Really, it was always a little overrated, because it never lived up to the hype. The players who were (June 1) cap casualties there was usually a reason why they were out there. But the importance has (dwindled) even more the last few years, with some of the changes in the league."
Indeed, the NFL's internal transaction wire figures to be relatively quiet after the calendar flips over to June on Friday at midnight. What was once a much-awaited date, at least by optimistic fans hopeful that their team might find one more key piece among the post-June 1 rubble, probably will be much ado about nothing.
The current slim pickings in the unrestricted free agent market aren't apt to be improved by the usual collection of underachieving veterans with fat contracts who used to be released by cap-crunched franchises after June 1. Many of those players, in fact, were jettisoned by their teams months ago.
Most general managers and personnel directors contacted by ESPN.com in the past two days were hard-pressed to name even a single serviceable veteran they were certain would be released as a June 1 cap casualty.
Perhaps the most notable June 1 move could be the anticipated retirement of classy New York Jets tailback Curtis Martin, the future Hall of Fame runner who has delayed walking away from the game for good, but now seems poised to limp into his post-football future. Martin, though, isn't so much a cap casualty -- although postponing his departure until after June 1 will benefit the Jets -- as much as he is the victim of a 2005 knee injury.
Even wide receiver Justin McCareins, who lost his starting job with the Jets last season, and who was the subject of plenty of trade speculation earlier in the spring, isn't such a sure-thing to be released now. While his 2007 base salary of $2.91 million is pricey for a guy who might rate no better than the team's No. 3 wideout, McCareins has been a regular at the Jets' offseason sessions and agent Cliff Brady said Tuesday there are no signs that his client's release is imminent.
"A month ago," Brady said, "I would have told you he'd be gone (June 1). But I don't think that's the case now. No one has told me he's going to be released."
The Jets might consider cutting starting guard Pete Kendall, who has contract issues and has stopped attending the offseason program, but would almost certainly attempt to first trade the 11-year veteran. Starting linebacker Eric Barton might be on the Jets' chopping block but, even if released, wouldn't technically qualify as a June 1 casualty, since the team could have gained the same amount of cap relief no matter when it released him.
Green Bay has a few players whose futures with the franchise could be in question -- like tight end Bubba Franks, wide receiver Robert Ferguson and defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila -- but there have been no indications the Packers are close to lopping off any of those veterans. With a huge salary cap surplus, the Packers are under no urgency to create more room under the NFL's record $109 million spending limit.
"The cap is so high, that there just aren't many teams in trouble anymore," said one AFC personnel director. "It's a pretty healthy league cap-wise right now. That's good, because it means there won't be a lot of June 1 junk thrown into the market. It was always sort of like a 'fool's gold market' anyway after June 1. You know, big name (players), with those big (contracts), but who couldn't play anymore. But once in a while, your owner would get a bug, and want you to sign one of those guys, and then you had to spend a day explaining to him why the guy wasn't worth it. So I'm not crying that there aren't going to be very many (post-June 1) cuts."
The reasons for the reduction in the number of June 1 cap casualties are many, but primary among them is that the salary cap is so high now, and that franchises finally have begun to manage their spending limit far more efficiently. The league still isn't exactly awash with fiscal responsibility yet, but teams are being more prudent than they used to be.
With the extension of the collective bargaining agreement in 2006, the cap skyrocketed from $85.5 million to $102 million, an increase of nearly 20 percent. With a 2007 cap of $109 million, that means the league limit has grown by 27.5 percent in a two-year stretch.
Some other factors:
• The CBA extension included a provision that permits each team to designate two players per year as June 1 cap casualties, even if they are released months earlier. The stipulation means that clubs can enjoy the post-June 1 cap benefits, principally being able to stretch the impact of signing bonus "acceleration" over two seasons instead of one, but no longer have to wait until after June 1 to do so. At least seven veterans around the NFL, including Keyshawn Johnson, were designated as post-June 1 releases. "That change," said Atlanta general manager and competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay, "was huge."
• Just as teams have gotten smarter, so have player agents, particularly in the area of roster bonuses. Not all that long ago, such bonuses usually were paid out if a player was on the roster on June 1 or July 1. But more often than not now, such bonuses are tied to a March 1 date. The reason: It forces a team to make a decision on a player -- pay him the bonus and retain him or release him before the bonus comes due -- before free agency begins. Most player representatives prefer to have their players in the free agent market at the outset of the signing period, not late in the summer, when rosters spots are filled and money is tight.
• Trades have become a viable option in the NFL again. Teams interested in a player who is about to be released might prefer to trade for him, especially if the compensation isn't too exorbitant, instead of having to bid against several other franchises if the player is cut loose and goes onto the free agent market. A trade means you acquire a player at a fixed price on his contract. Free agency, with even just one or two other suitors chasing a veteran, could raise significantly the financial ante.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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