Buying into rentals: One-year deals can bring big payoff

Len Pasquarelli,The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

It is a term, "rental player," more often associated with baseball at this time of the year, and one that we are likely to see utilized more often over the ensuing week as MLB moves toward the non-waiver trade deadline.
But one-year rentals are germane in the NFL as well, as the San Diego Chargers demonstrated last week, with the additions of defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin and tailback Jackie Battle on one-year contracts. And while such rentals in the NFL aren't quite the same as in baseball, where teams acquire players for only the final month or two of a particular season, they can be just as desirable as the term is derisive.
"Well, it's going to help with depth," San Diego general manager A.J. Smith said last week after closing the Franklin and Battle deals, and earlier adding veteran tailback Ronnie Brown on a one-year contract. "And everyone's looking for depth."
True enough.
But in the NFL, teams are always looking for role players, it seems, and veterans who are unsigned in free agency are seeking another season of paychecks or a chance at redemption, and often the two expediencies are combined in the form of one-year contracts at palatable levels. There are more than three dozen veterans preparing to report to training camps this week on one-year contracts, many of them for league minimum salaries, and the volume will probably increase in camps or as the preseason begins.
Most of the recent additions of veteran players -- tackle Max Starks (Pittsburgh), safety Chris Hope (Atlanta), safety Sean Jones (Detroit), in addition to the deals in San Diego -- have been for one year. There are few remaining unsigned veterans who might land contracts for more than just one season.
The case of Franklin, who agreed to a second straight one-year contract for much less than he earned as a franchise free agent at San Francisco in 2010, is one of the more mystifying situations in the league. Especially since the defensive tackle spot is historically one of the most difficult to fill. But Franklin, who played for New Orleans in 2011 on a one-year contract, has been a bit of a disappointment. While several clubs considered signing him this spring, no one pulled the trigger until San Diego acted last week.
"We're happy to have him here," Smith said.
That's probably the case, given that Franklin could make the Chargers' modest investment look very good if he manages to recapture his prior form.
The one-year litany includes quarterbacks attempting to make a comeback, like David Garrard in Miami, who missed all of 2011 after back surgery, or onetime first-round draft choice Vince Young in Buffalo, or Chicago's Jason Campbell, a onetime starter who will serve as Jay Cutler's backup. There is a chance Garrard will win a starting job with the Dolphins, and then be able to go back into the free agent market again next spring.
"The (one-year) contract was best for him," conceded agent Albert Irby, who spoke to several teams before Garrard resumed his career with the Dolphins. "It's really a no-lose situation. He gets a legitimate chance to re-establish himself as a starting-caliber quarterback in the league. And if he does that, he's able to get back in the (free agent) mix again next year."
So the one-year contract -- and, truthfully, no team proposed more than that, since Garrard was "damaged goods" coming off the back surgery and a year of inactivity -- was a good gamble and solid common ground for all sides.
Garrard is hardly the only veteran attempting to re-establish himself with a one-year contract. A trio of high-profile but itinerant wide receivers -- Randy Moss (in San Francisco), Chad Ochocinco/Johnson (Miami) and Steve Smith (St. Louis) -- all are working on one-year contracts, hoping to recapture past glories and show that they are not necessarily in decline. There have been reports, viewed dubiously by some, that 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has said Moss was the team's best receiver in the spring workouts.
Said agent Joel Segal, who shopped Moss around the league, before agreeing to the San Francisco contract: "One year works best for everyone concerned."
The New York Jets likely will have a starting safety tandem comprised of players who are one-year rentals, LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell. Coming off an Achilles injury, Landry will start camp on the physically unable to perform list, but he is expected to be rehabilitated for the start of the season. Tight end Dallas Clark will attempt in Tampa Bay to demonstrate he is healthy again after two seasons that were curtailed by injuries. Cincinnati hopes that cornerback Terence Newman can challenge for a starting spot.
Onetime Indianapolis 1,000-yard rusher Joseph Addai could supplant third-down specialist Kevin Faulk in New England. Cleveland will attempt to coax a solid year from former Philadelphia pass rusher Juqua Parker.
As in the case of Starks, who figures to provide the Steelers with a proven fallback in the event rookie second-rounder Mike Adams doesn't win the starting spot at left tackle, veterans are typically signed to one-year contracts for depth and insurance. There are instances, however, when they contribute even more than expected.
Starks, who was signed last week after Steelers' officials were satisfied that he is healthy again after rehabbing from a torn ACL, agreed to a similar one-year contract in 2011. But he rescued the Pittsburgh offensive line by starting 12 games.
The Super Bowl champion New York Giants signed middle linebacker Chase Blackburn last November out of desperation, and he started in the championship game. AFC champion New England paid a total of $3.625 to ends Andre Carter and Mark Anderson on one-year contracts last season, and the veteran pass-rushers had 10 sacks apiece for the Patriots.
Anderson parlayed the comeback season into a four-year, $27.5 million contract with Buffalo in free agency this spring.
"The (one-year) contract in New England gave me a chance ... and I took advantage of the opportunity," Anderson said.
And so while the one-year rental veterans are often regarded as insignificant, they can occasionally turn out to be rewarding to both teams and players.

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