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Jerry Jones wades into “poison pill” minefield

Image (2) J.Jones-thumb-250x300-5043.jpg for post 70828

As concerns of collusion claims by the NFLPA hover over the still-fledgling free-agency period, there’s a 600-pound elephant in the room. Which actually is sort of svelte for an elephant.

The poison pill.

Four years ago, the Vikings concocted a fairly simple procedure for crafting an offer sheet that, as a practical matter, couldn’t be matched based on factors that would make the full value of the deal guaranteed in his current city. The league fought the process, the union supported the device as a tool for promoting the ability of players to move from team to team, and the labor deal ultimately was interpreted as permitting the poison-pill process.

In the end, guard Steve Hutchinson left Seattle and headed to Minnesota.

The Seahawks responded by doing the same thing to the Vikings, securing receiver Nate Burleson, a restricted free agent at the time, with an offer sheet that the Vikings could not match.

When the 32 teams convened at league meetings later that same month, the Vikings were met with animosity. Then, the NFL tried to write the poison-pill process out of the CBA. But a deal could not be reached.

Through the passage of time, many (including some media members) have assumed that the poison-pill is no longer a viable tool for use in offer sheets. The truth is that it remains on the books, and that the union is likely poised to pitch a fit if it’s not used in any offer sheets signed by 2010 restricted free agents.

Teams vulnerable to a poison-pill attack include the Cowboys, who have tendered restricted free agent receiver Miles Austin at the highest possible level, requiring compensation in the amount of a first-round pick and a third-round pick if Dallas opts not to match. And owner Jerry Jones apparently is nervous about the possibility that someone will make Miles Austin an offer that the Cowboys can’t match.

“That’s always a concern and that’s one of the things that needs to
be addressed
in the new collective bargaining agreement,” Jones said Tuesday, per Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News. “Those are called unintended consequences there. What turns into trying
to be competitive among clubs and what turns into trying to be fair for
a player turns into being a disadvantage for the clubs.”

Here’s the problem, as we see it. By acknowledging the ongoing viability of the poison pill, Jones has now made it even harder for teams not to use it. The players won this battle four years ago, the owners failed to offer a sufficient concession at the time to make it go away, and no team has used it since then in signing players to offer sheets.

We’re surprised that the union hasn’t made an issue out of the situation in 2007, 2008, or 2009. We’ll be shocked if the union looks the other way if teams fail to use the poison pill in any offer sheets presented to restricted free agents in 2010.

Then again, the hidden genius of Jones’ remarks could be that he possibly has foreclosed teams from choosing to sign any restricted free agents to offer sheets, since his comments arguably now compel use of the poison pill. Though the union can still cry collusion if no RFAs are pursued, it will be very easy for teams to argue that they prefer not to sacrifice draft picks in what many regard as the deepest pool of incoming talent in years.

In the end, Jones won’t have to worry about losing Austin -- or about being forced to sign him to a long-term deal.