Wednesday, June 16, 2010

2010 Green Bay Packers Restricted Free Agent Update

In the beginning of March I set the stage for the decisions facing Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson. A week later, Thompson signed Chad Clifton, Nick Collins, Ryan Pickett, and Mark Tauscher to multi-year contracts. A few weeks later I took a look at the 2010 Green Bay Packers roster before and after the 2010 NFL Draft. As usual, Thompson was not active in the free agent market so the next big date on the NFL off-season calendar for the Green Bay Packers was June 14, 2010 when Ted Thompson had some decisions to make about the Packers remaining restricted free agents.

According to Article XIX, Section (ii) of the CBA,* if the remaining restricted free agents did not sign their tenders by 11 p.m. on June 14, 2010, the Green Bay Packers had a 24 hour window where they could replace those tenders with one-year contracts worth 110% of their 2009 base salaries. That rule potentially could have impacted only three players (Tramon Williams, Johnny Jolly, and Atari Bigby) since the Packers already reached deals (Will Blackmon, Daryn Colledge, Nick Collins, Spencer Havner, John Kuhn, and Jason Spitz) or cut (Jeremy Kapinos and DeShawn Wynn) their other restricted free agents.

The financial ramifications varied for the three players that had not signed their tenders with the deadline looming:
- Tramon Williams' 2010 salary would have dropped from $3.043 (first and third round tender) to $584,078.
- Johnny Jolly's 2010 salary would have dropped from $2.521 million (first round tender) to $589,501.
- Atari Bigby's 2010 salary would have dropped from $1.759 million (second round tender) to $1.704 million.

The Packers had till 11 p.m. on June 15, 2010 to reduce their offer to 110% if Williams, Jolly, or Bigby did not sign their tender. The impacted players could only sign with the Packers and would have to sign the reduced tender by Week 10 or sit out the entire season. For Jolly and Bigby, they would have become unrestricted free agents after 2010 even if they never played another down for the Packers.

Ultimately Williams and Jolly signed their tenders but Bigby choose not to sign his tender. It is surprising that Williams and Jolly cut things so close.

Tramon Williams:
Although the Packers are thin at cornerback with Al Harris out injured, the Packers have been very fair with Williams in the past. In 2009 the Packers paid Williams roughly $900,000, including a $375,000 signing bonus, despite only having to pay Williams $460,000 according to the CBA since Williams was only entering his 3rd season in the NFL in 2009. Furthermore, the Packers placed the highest restricted free agent tender on Williams, meaning if another team wanted to sign Williams they would have to give the Packers their 1st and 3rd round draft picks in the 2010 NFL Draft for the right to sign Williams.

Williams only has 3 accrued seasons so if he decided to sit out 2010, he would still be a restricted free agent going into the 2011 NFL season. Williams needs to play in at least 6 games in order to accrue another season of NFL service and become an unrestricted free agent, assuming a new CBA is agreed upon with similar terms to the old CBA. Williams played well after Al Harris was lost for the season but some scouts still question whether he will ever be any better than a nickel cornerback.

Johnny Jolly:
With all of the legal trouble Jolly is facing, he should be ecstatic the Packers even tendered him a contract let alone a first round tender. Jolly is set to earn $2.521 million, although he can be released at any point before the season without costing the Packers a dime. If Jolly was not facing jail time, the Packers probably would have given Jolly a multi-year extension based on how well he played in the 3-4 last season.

Instead, Jolly is facing very serious legal allegations in Texas. The prosecutor claims that Jolly not only possessed a number of illegal substances, but according to court documents he also "bought, sold, funded, transported and aided in the buying, selling, funding and transportation of illegal narcotics including cocaine and marijuana". The Packers will wait and see how the trial plays out (which is schedule for the first day of training camp), before making any long-term decisions on Jolly.

Atari Bigby:
Atari Bigby has had a rash of injuries the last two season that forced him to miss 12 games. Even thought Bigby was limited by injury last year, he still had four interceptions. At 5'11" and 213 pounds, Bigby was a physically imposing safety early in his Packer career but that has tailed off over the last few seasons. It has been an eternity (November 11, 2007) since Bigby forced a fumble. All of that adds up to Bigby being a one way player in pass coverage that provides little in combating the run. Atari Bigby stands to lose out on roughly $54,000 if the Packer decide to reduce his tender but he is jeopardizing a mountain of future earnings by holding out.

In the 3rd round of the 2010 NFL Draft the Packers traded up to draft Morgan Burnett, a physical safety that played for Georgia Tech. Burnett has great size at 6'1" and 209 pounds, which allows him to not only drop into coverage but also come up to the line of scrimmage to play the run. Burnett was VERY productive in college, he had 14 interceptions and 235 tackles (8th in school history) in just three years at Georgia Tech. Although Bigby thinks he is sending a message to the Packers by holding out, he might just be opening the door for perfect safety to compliment Nick Collins. Collins wears #36 and Burnett wears #42...hopefully the new version of former #36 LeRoy Butler and former #42 Darren Sharper.

* In the event that a Restricted Free Agent has not signed a Player Contract with a Club within the Signing Period in the League Year following the expiration of his last Player Contract, and if the Prior Club by June 1 tenders to the Restricted Free Agent a one year Player Contract of at least 110% of his Paragraph 5 Salary (with all other terms of his prior year contract carried forward unchanged) or extends the player’s Qualifying Offer, whichever is greater (the “June 1 Tender”), the Prior Club shall be the only Club with which the player may negotiate or sign a Player Contract during the period from June 1 until the Tuesday following the tenth week of the regular season, at 4:00 p.m. New York time. If the player’s Qualifying Offer is greater than 110% of the player’s Paragraph 5 Salary (with all other terms of his prior year contract carried forward unchanged), the Club may withdraw the Qualifying Offer on June 15 and retain its rights under the preceding sentence, so long as the Club immediately tenders the player a one year Player Contract of at least 110% of his Paragraph 5 Salary (with all other terms of his prior year contract carried forward unchanged) (the“June 15 Tender”).

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