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CloakNNNdagger
01-08-2011, 07:06 AM
Possible lockout puts free agents in limbo (http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/sports/fb/texansfront/7371555.html)Leach among group of Texans affected until new deal reached
By JOHN McCLAIN
Copyright 2011 Houston Chronicle


The Texans have three starters and three significant reserves who will become unrestricted free agents March 4 if the owners don't force a lockout by then.

Under the current rules, players can't become unrestricted free agents unless they have at least six years of experience.

Fullback Vonta Leach, a Pro Bowler this season, defensive tackle Shaun Cody and punter Matt Turk are the only starters who fall into that category.

"I want to be a Texan," Leach said. "I want to retire as a Texan, but we'll see how this thing goes."

The last time Leach's contract was up, the New York Giants signed him to an offer sheet the Texans matched.

Linebacker Kevin Bentley, running back Derrick Ward and defensive tackle Damione Lewis are reserves who played significant roles and can also become unrestricted.

"It would be nice to end my career here, but that's not up to me," Ward said. "That's up to the guys upstairs, so we'll see."

When a new collective bargaining agreement is reached between the owners and players, whether by the March 3 deadline or deep into September, unrestricted free agency is expected to return to four years of experience.

If that's the case, starters Owen Daniels (tight end) and Bernard Pollard (strong safety) would be unrestricted.

"I want to be here," Pollard said, "but that's not up to me. Everybody understands it's a business.

"You just got to go with what they are going to do."

Foster can't move

The Texans are not allowed by the NFL to talk about the lockout and potential ramifications — such as what will happen with the free-agency system.

Under the current rules, players with five, four or three years of experience are restricted free agents when their contracts expire. Clubs can keep them by re-signing them or by matching any offer sheet they sign with other teams.

Running back Arian Foster, who led the NFL in rushing, yards from scrimmage, touchdowns, rushing touchdowns and first downs, is a two-year veteran. Players with two years of experience are exclusive rights players, which means they have no freedom to move.

If the lockout is implemented by the owners, there can be no player movement — no signings or trades. Players can't have contact with their teams and will have to work out and practice on their own.

There will be a draft because rookies don't become members of the union until they sign.

Tough to predict

How teams and agents handle free agency before a possible lockout March 4 is up in the air.

Do teams try to sign some of their potential free agents to make for a smoother transition for when the lockout ends, which could possibly be during the season? Or do teams take the hard line and have an approach of why should they give players money when some games might be canceled?

Players don't lose money until they start receiving checks after the season begins. Their base salaries are paid over 17 weeks during the regular season. Many believe the players will have to lose game checks in September before a new CBA is reached.

Owners opted out of the CBA because they don't like the current system that, they insist, gives the players a bigger piece of the financial pie than they intended. So it might not make sense for the owners to spend money now.

When the new deal is reached and free agency returns to four years, teams are going to scramble to re-sign their own and to sign other free agents before the season kicks off.

john.mcclain@chron.com




WHERE THEY STAND

Under current rules, players become unrestricted free agents after they have completed at least six seasons of experience. Teams can match offer sheets signed by restricted free agents. Exclusive rights players are unable to sign with other teams. Here’s a breakdown of Texans free agents:

Unrestricted with at least 6 years of experience

FB Vonta Leach, DT Shaun Cody, P Matt Turk, RB Derrick Ward, LB Kevin Bentley, DT Damione Lewis, CB Karl Paymah, DE Jarvis Green

Restricted with 5 years of experience

TE Owen Daniels, SS Bernard Pollard, OT Rashad Butler, DE Mark Anderson, QB Matt Leinart

Restricted with 4 years of experience

LB Zac Diles, WR Jacoby Jones, G Kasey Studdard, DE Tim Bulman

Restricted with 3 years of experience

G Mike Brisiel

Exclusive rights player

RB Arian Foster