Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Steven Jackson's contract dispute with the Rams could linger without regard for a deadline that passes Tuesday. The fine print of the collective bargaining agreement can make situations such as this one difficult to follow. Getting bogged down in details can obscure what matters most.
Here is what matters most: To become a free agent in 2009, Jackson must report to the Rams by midseason. As a general rule, the NFL Players Association recommends reporting no later than after the eighth game of the season. This would make Nov. 3 the date by which Jackson should report to become an unrestricted free agent in March 2009.
I confirmed these general principles with Richard Berthelsen, general counsel for the NFL Players Association. He cautioned that he was not offering advice to Jackson or any specific player. In general, he said players should err on the safe side by reporting a week or so early, particularly if bye weeks are involved. The Rams have a bye Oct. 5. The eighth week of the season passes Oct. 26. To be safe, then, Jackson might want to report by Oct. 27, should this dispute linger that long.
Joey Galloway's dispute with Seattle in 1999 provides precedent. Galloway reported after the Seahawks' eighth game. The team had already had its bye week at that point. The Seahawks were able to put him on an exemption list for up to two weeks. But by reporting with eight games remaining, Galloway made sure he would spend at least six regular-season games on the active roster, the number needed to fulfill his contract.
"Joey Galloway reported after the eighth and before the ninth (games). The arbitrator ruled he therefore had a contract year and he was a free agent after that year. After the 10th game, a player cannot come back. I would caution a player to do it by the ninth week." -- Richard Berthlesen, NFLPA general counsel
I had previously expected Jackson to report to the Rams in time to receive credit for an accrued season (as defined by the CBA). That deadline is today, Tuesday, 30 days before the NFL's first regular-season game. But that deadline is secondary because Jackson already has enough accrued seasons -- four -- to qualify for free agency once his contract expires.
In other words, Jackson can fulfill the final year of his contract even if he doesn't receive credit for an accrued season. These are separate issues.
Accrued seasons are important for determining whether a player is eligible for free agency when his contract expires. Accrued seasons do not determine whether the contract expires.
As a result, missing the deadline today carries no immediate consequences for Jackson. Missing the deadline probably won't affect Jackson in the more distant future, either. His free-agency status could be at risk in 2010 if certain things happen. Of course, Jackson will probably have a new long-term deal before then.
A few things to keep in mind:
Players with at least four accrued seasons in the NFL are eligible to become unrestricted free agents when their contracts expire.
Jackson already has four accrued seasons in the NFL (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007).
Jackson is therefore eligible for unrestricted free agency when his contract expires.
NFL players can fulfill their contracts by reporting after the eighth game, according to precedent set in the Joey Galloway ruling.
Jackson could fulfill his contract if he reports by Oct. 27, at which point he would ask the commissioner for reinstatement.
These are confusing issues. If you have additional questions, please let me know. I'll provide additional clarifications as information becomes available.