In a clear sign that NFL owners are going to use the leverage of a possible uncapped 2010 season against players in negotiations, only three first-round picks from the 2005 NFL draft have signed contract extensions with their initial franchise so far. If this trend continues, it could have a significant impact on free agency next year.
Under the CBA rules of an uncapped year, players can't become unrestricted free agents until after their sixth season. Subsequently, players from the '05 class, such as San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman(notes), Cleveland Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards(notes) and Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White(notes), will only have five years of service accrued and would not be unrestricted free agents next offseason. Unless they work out renegotiated deals between now and then, they would become restricted free agents following the '09 campaign – meaning their current clubs have the ability to match an offer sheet from a competing team to retain their services.
Status of 2005 first-round draft picks
2009: 2-yr., $6.5M contract*
2009: 2-yr., $7 contract (CIN)
Adam "Pacman" Jones
FA (released by Titans in 2007)
Retired after injury
FA (released by Redskins in '08)
FA (released by Jaguars)
2008: 6-yr., $65M ext.
2008: 5-yr., $43.1M ext.
2006: 7-yr., $32M ext.
*Reworked final two years of initial contract
^Traded to Jaguars after 2007 season
Source: NFL, Rotoworld.com, USA Today, Press-Democrat
Currently, players are eligible for unrestricted free agency after four seasons.
The agents for Merriman, Edwards and White are among several who have expressed interest in doing long-term contracts, but have gotten little response from teams.
For Merriman's part, he is taking the situation in stride.
"I just turned 25 man, I don't care about any of that stuff. I can do this all day!" Merriman wrote in an email. "I just feel like all my work will pay off one day and somebody is going to realize what I bring and give me what I want."
While that's a healthy attitude, Merriman is also coming off a left knee injury which limited him to only one game last season and forced him to have surgery. As a result, Merriman might have to display that he's fully recovered from ligament damage before commanding a lucrative deal from the Chargers or another team.
As for the rest of the '05 first-rounders, only Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and defensive linemen Mike Patterson (Philadelphia Eagles) and Luis Castillo (San Diego) have signed extensions. Quarterback Alex Smith reworked the final two years of his contract to stay with the San Francisco 49ers and running back Cedric Benson, drafted by the Chicago Bears, has since joined the Cincinnati Bengals and signed a new deal.
"It's pretty clear what the teams are doing," one agent said. "They're using the threat of the uncapped year against the players, hoping to get cheaper deals done or just waiting it out, period."
That agent said that if players don't get new deals, there's a chance some of them could hold out. Or at least threaten to hold out.
"If teams think that some of these guys are going to play on the restricted tenders, they're kidding themselves," another agent said. "I'll tell my guy that he just shouldn't show up for any of the offseason program or for any of training camp. Let the teams deal with that."
By comparison, at least 10 members of the 2004 first-round class had signed contract extensions prior to the start of their fifth season. Among them are Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald(notes), cornerback DeAngelo Hall(notes) (who got his new deal after being traded from the Falcons to the Oakland Raiders), Denver Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams(notes) and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger(notes).
Though some of the top picks from 2005 haven't been successful, such as Smith and free agents Adam "Pacman" Jones (cornerback) and Mike Williams (wide receiver), there are a number of players who have excelled. Aside from Edwards, Merriman and White, the list includes Washington Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers, linebacker DeMarcus Ware, New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Jammal Brown, Steelers tight end Heath Miller and New England Patriots guard Logan Mankins.