The decision by Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White(notes) to hold out from training camp in a contract dispute could be the first significant challenge to teams' attempts to play hardball with certain key players over the upcoming changes in the collective bargaining agreement.
A source close to White said he is looking for a deal that exceeds the value of new contracts done for Buffalo Bills wide receiver Lee Evans(notes) (four year, $37.25 million, including $18.25 million guaranteed) and Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams (five years, $45 million, $20 million guaranteed). White did not report to camp Friday after debating whether to for several weeks. The source added that the Falcons had tried to delay further talks over the contract, making White frustrated with the lack of progress toward a new deal he believes was promised by the team. The Falcons had not responded by the time this story was published.
White is among several top players from the 2005 NFL draft class who face the possibility that they won't become unrestricted free agents after this season if the CBA is not extended before 2010.
Under CBA rules, if the league goes to an uncapped year in 2010, as scheduled, players can't become unrestricted free agents until after they have played six years. Currently, players become unrestricted after four years once their contract runs out.
The difference is that White, who has played four years, signed a five-year deal. First-round picks generally sign for either five or six years now. That situation puts White in the position that he possibly won't be unrestricted.
Likewise, other players from the 2005 such as linebackers Shawne Merriman(notes) and DeMarcus Ware(notes), wide receiver Braylon Edwards(notes) and running back Ronnie Brown(notes), have yet to sign new deals.
Only four players from the 2005 draft have signed contract extensions with their existing clubs. They are Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers(notes), Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Mike Patterson(notes), San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Luis Castillo(notes) and Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller(notes). Quarterback Alex Smith reworked the final two years of his contract to stay with the San Francisco 49ers and running back Cedric Benson(notes), drafted by the Chicago Bears, has since joined the Cincinnati Bengals and signed a new deal.
In fact, Miller's signing earlier this week is another move that could signal change among teams regarding extensions. A Pittsburgh source indicated that the Steelers made the move with Miller out of concern that if the CBA extension gets done shortly before the start of free agency next year, re-signing Miller could have been much harder.