As of the June 15 deadline to do so, 12 players have not signed their restricted free agent tenders and are thus in interesting states of purgatory. According to NFLLabor.com and updated reports we're receiving, there are two New Orleans Saints (T Jammal Brown(notes) and WR Lance Moore(notes)), two Green Bay Packers (SS Atari Bigby(notes) and CB Tramon Williams(notes)); three San Diego Chargers (WR Vincent Jackson(notes), T Marcus McNeill(notes), and OLB Shawne Merriman(notes)); one Kansas City Chief (FS Jarrad Page(notes)); one Tampa Bay Buccaneer (T Donald Penn(notes)); one Miami Dolphin (Ronnie Brown(notes)); one New England Patriot (G Logan Mankins(notes), pictured); and one Washington Redskin (CB Carlos Rogers(notes)). Saints running back Pierre Thomas(notes) signed his near the last minute (as, it turns out, did safety Roman Harper(notes), which takes our number down to 12), but will continue to hold out of OTAs as he seeks a new contract.
Of these players, Jackson, McNeill, and Mankins have been the most vocal. Jackson and McNeill threaten to skip the first 10 weeks of the 2010 season if need be, in order to make their points clear about their desire to have multi-year contracts. Hardline Chargers GM A.J. Smith reacted predictably, signing Tra Thomas(notes) and Josh Reed(notes) to replace McNeill and Jackson at least in the short term. Mankins recently came out and said that he wants to be traded, citing the team's request that he play out the 2009 season with the promise that his contract situation would be addressed after the season was over. "Right now, this is about principle with me and keeping your word and how you treat people," Mankins said. "This is what I thought the foundation of the Patriots was built on. Apparently, I was wrong. Growing up, I was taught a man's word is his bond. Obviously this isn't the case with the Patriots."
While players of this caliber usually have at least a little traction in holdout situations, a kink in the post-CBA landscape puts those players at risk of losing a lot of money.
Now that the June 15 deadline has passed, clubs can rescind the tenders they had offered, and are obligated to play just 110 percent of the player's 2009 base salary. In McNeill's case, that means a reduction from $3.168 million to $600,000. In Jackson's case, from $3.268 million to $583,000. The Chargers have already insisted that Jackson and McNeill would not receive any more money than the reduced tenders, which escalated the situation. Smith's not known as a guy to bend at the best of times, and the ball's in his court. And if you think excellence will change Smith's mind, remember that Smith fired Marty Schottenheimer after a season in which Schottenheimer posted a 14-2 record.
Packers GM Ted Thompson is another guy not commonly known to pry open his payroll unless absolutely necessary, and the Packers sent letters to each of their potentially unsigned RFAs informing them that their tenders would absolutely be reduced if they did not sign within a 24-hour window. DE Johnny Jolly(notes), who faces an upcoming drug trial, responded by signing just before the deadline, while Bigby and Williams have not.
Teams are not duty-bound to sign players to the lower tenders; they can continue to negotiate, but they have no real incentive to do so. And according to Pro Football Talk, the NFLPA has found the letter sent by the Packers interesting, because they weren't the only team to do so. The union is now looking into the possibility of collusion charges. This might be bad news for the NFL, since the union has been absolutely spanking the owners in court in recent months.
It's yet more grist for what promises to be an ever more contentions showdown between the sides as the union tries to keep the game going, and the owners weigh the risk/reward of shutting down their sport to break the union in two.