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The 30-day rule lurks in the details of the Collective Bargaining Agreement

We’ve mentioned from time to time over the past few weeks the 30-day rule, which requires players under contract to report for training camp at least 30 days before the first game of the regular season in order to receive an accrued year toward free agency. Several of you, including a few writers, have expressed confusion regarding this term in the labor deal.

And it’s understandable, given that there is no provision in the 200-plus-page Collective Bargaining Agreement dubbed “30-day rule.”

We first discovered the rule in 2005, when a league insider pointed out that then-Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, who had three years of service and was holding out for a new deal, would forfeit his fourth year of service if his holdout continued past the 30-day window before the Thursday night opener.

Westbrook’s agent didn’t know about the rule, and for good reason. It’s buried in Article XVIII, under the title “Veterans with Less than Three Accrued Seasons.” The key clause appears in the first sentence of Section 1(b): “For the purposes of calculating Accrued Seasons under this Agreement, for any League Year beginning with the 1993 League Year, a player shall not receive an Accrued Season for any League Year in which the player is under contract to a Club and in which he failed to report to such Club at least thirty days prior to the first regular season game of that season, or in which the player thereafter failed to perform his contract services for the Club for a material period of time, unless he demonstrates to the Impartial Arbitrator extreme personal hardship causing such failure to report or perform, such as severe illness or death in the family.”

The difference between players like Titans running back Chris Johnson and, for example, Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson flows from the fact that Johnson is under contract, and Jackson isn’t. For players not under contract, the player must be on full pay status for six or more regular-season games, per Article XVIII, Section 1(a), in order to receive another year of credit toward free agency.

If Johnson shows up for six or more regular-season games, he’d receive credit for the 2010 season under his contract, reducing the overall obligation from three years to two. But if he doesn’t show up by August 10 -- 30 days before the Vikings-Saints game on September 9 -- Johnson’s years toward free agency will remain at only two for all of the 2010 season.

With many league insiders believing that the years toward unrestricted free agency will increase to five or six under the new rules that will apply on or after the expiration of the current CBA, Johnson desperately needs to get that year of credit, and so he’ll undoubtedly show up.

The same concept applies to Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, who’d be stuck at three years of service if he were to hold out beyond August 10, and any other elite young player who craves a crack at the open market.