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TRANSITION TAG COMING FOR BREES?
We interrupt the ongoing coverage of coaches who will have different jobs next season to address coverage of players who could have different jobs next season.
According to ESPN.com, Chargers quarterback Drew Brees has a torn labrum in his shoulder, which will require surgery and a four-month rehabilitation period. Brees will get a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews before getting the surgery.
The development significantly complicates the team's options with Brees. An unrestricted free agent a year ago, Brees was slapped with the franchise tag. Chargers G.M. A.J. Smith hinted during the 2004 season that the objective would be to get some compensation for Brees in trade. The only problem is that no one was interested.
When discussing on Sunday night the potential fallout of the shoulder injury suffered by Brees in the team's season finale, we argued that the team should slap the franchise tag on Brees again and remove it in June or July, after all other starting jobs are filled for the year. It would then enable the team to sign Brees to a reasonable contract, with virtually no competition from any other teams.
There's a big flaw in that reasoning, as we've been advised. Brees undoubtedly would sign the franchise tender promptly upon receiving it, which would give him a guaranteed wage of $9.69 million in 2006 -- a 20 percent raise over his 2005 salary. Since the deadline for using the tag comes near the end of February, pouncing on $10 million at a time when he is still damaged goods would be a no-brainer.
So the Chargers face a serious dilemma. If they use the tag and can't trade Brees, they're on the hook to pay nearly $10 million to a guy who won't be at 100 percent until, at the earliest, the offseason program is in full swing.
So the fallback position for the Chargers could be to use the transition tag on Brees. Like the franchise tag, use of the transition tag still requires a one-year tender in the amount of $9.69 million. Unlike the franchise tender, the transition tender can be withdrawn even after the player signs it.
The difference comes from the 1998 extension to the CBA, which added specific language to Article XX, Section 2(c) that makes the franchise tender guaranteed if the player accepts. No similar text was added to the portions of Article XX regarding the transition tag.
The key is that the transition tag gives the Chargers a right of first refusal, which basically is an invitation to another team to conduct the contract negotiations on the Chargers' behalf. New team works out the deal, and then the Chargers match it.
The ace in the hole, however, for any team that might be interested in getting Brees or in sticking it to the Chargers would be to offer Brees a one-year deal that includes an agreement not to use the franchise tag or transition tag on Brees in the future. Although such terms are, per Article XX, Section 2(g), not "principal terms" that must be matched as to franchise players, Article XX, Section 2(g) expressly exempts this provision from players carrying the transition tag.
And because the Chargers can (and surely would) withdraw the transition tag later in the offseason, it won't take a $9.69 million salary to get Brees to take a one-year offer. Under the circumstances, a $5 million salary with another $3 million in incentives tied to playing time could be enough to get Brees to pounce, if the one-year offer deal allows him to become an unrestricted free agent in 2007, which absent an agreement to extend to the current CBA beyond the 2007 season will be an uncapped year.
Our guess (and this really is a guess) is that the Raiders will put something along these lines together, if for no reason other than to mess with G.M. A.J. Smith. Other arguably possible suitors are the Fins, Chiefs, Jets, Browns, Ravens, Titans, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, Bucs, Saints, Rams, Cardinals.