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Whatever happened to June 1 free agency?

Jacksonville Jaguars v Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 25: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers looks to follow the block of Travelle Wharton #70 during second quarter action against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Bank of America Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Brian A. Westerholt/Getty Images)

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Lawyers aren’t supposed to ask questions to which they don’t know the answer. (Could it be that I’m no longer a lawyer because I failed to follow that advice?) In this specific case, however, I’ve got the answer to the question that serves as the headline to this item.

Before 2006, the free-agency process received a kick in the pants after Memorial Day, given a provision in the labor deal that allowed players to be cut after June 1 with no cap acceleration from future years of the contract. The 2006 amendment to the CBA changed the process, giving teams the ability to cut up to two players before June 1, and then to treat the cuts as if they had been made on June 2.

It was a win-win for the league and the union. Teams that already had made up their minds could move on, and the players hit the open market while the money was still flowing and the depth charts were still being filled out.

Because of this change, fewer and fewer players are now cut after June 1. And fewer and fewer players therefore hit the market as of June 2.

The Patriots could have cut receiver Chad Ochocinco under this designation before June 1. By waiting, the move had the same effect; $2 million of his signing bonus from 2011 applies to the cap this year, and $2 million will apply next year.

The only glitch is that teams must carry the cut players on the salary cap, as if he were still on the team, until June 2. For the Panthers, who cut guard Travelle Wharton on March 13 with a June 1 designation, the team had to keep his base salary on the books until June 2. As Pat Yasinskas of points out, the Panthers finally dumped the cap space, and they now have nearly $9 million in cap room after several months of being pushed up against the limit.

Before 2006, Wharton would have hit the market on June 2, along with the rest of the veterans with contracts their teams wanted to abandon without absorbing the full remaining acceleration in the current year. Today, and moving forward, it’s a date that has far less significance than it used to.