So what's the price tag on unrestricted free agency? Or, more accurately, on forfeiting the right to unfettered freedom?
That's the dilemma that Seattle Seahawks' defensive end Chris Clemons, who skipped this week's mandatory three-day minicamp despite still being under contract to the Seahawks for one more season, has pondered the past few weeks.
And the answer apparently is: More than $10 million.
Yeah, amid all the speculation this week about Drew Brees' contract negotiations, the Monday hearing for the "Bountygate Four," and the debuts of new players and coaches at minicamps around the league, the absence of Clemons from the Seattle workouts was well below the radar.
That might have something to do, of course, with the fact that Seahawks play in a part of the country to which many fans don't pay much attention, and which merits only modest media scrutiny.
Or it might be because Clemons, a nine-year veteran who had started only three games with three different franchises in the seven seasons before he arrived in Seattle in 2010, isn't particularly well-known.
That said, it was a fairly significant storyline, especially for a Seattle team that could quietly challenge for a title in the relatively unleavened NFC West.
The Seahawks, after all, didn't choose linebacker/defensive end Bruce Irvin in the first round of the draft, with the 15th overall slot, to play instead of Clemons (at least for this year), but rather in conjunction with him. The former West Virginia standout might eventually replace Clemons in the lineup, but Seattle officials prefer that occur after at least a season of the two harassing opposition quarterbacks from opposite sides.
But the Seahawks didn't have the tandem working together this week, and that was a problem. When or how it might be resolved is anybody's guess.
The Sports Xchange has learned that the Seahawks offered Clemons a new three-year contract through 2014 that would essentially have boosted his 2012 compensation to $8 million (from a scheduled base of $4 million), and added two years, at salaries of $4.5 million (for 2013) and $5.5 million (2014). That's a total of $18 million for three years. Clemons could have earned a $500,000 bonus for registering 10 or more sacks.
The two add-on years, though, at a total of $10 million, exclusive of bonuses, would have "bought out" Clemons from a chance at free agency. And that clearly wasn't enough for the player to sacrifice the chance to market himself as early as next spring, and so the deal was rejected.
Clemons has already forfeited a $100,000 workout bonus and will be fined at least $60,000 for skipping the three-day minicamp, and perhaps has put at jeopardy his sack bonus for 2012 ($800,000 for 10 sacks or more), but has remained pretty firm. Because he has an existing contract, Seattle can probably compel Clemons to report for training camp by exercising the "five-day letter," an esoteric move that the club has threatened but not exercised.
But it sure looks like an entrenched Clemons plans to stay at home in Atlanta and work out there until his contract situation is resolved.
There question of placing a price tag on free agency is one confronted just about every offseason by a few players, and the quantitative numbers vary from case to case. In the case of Clemons, who can make a pretty compelling argument that he has outplayed his contract, maybe even to the hard-liners who feel adamantly that a player should honor his deal, the price is clearly more than the Seahawks have been willing to offer to this point.
Operating on the fringes of public consciousness, Clemons has quietly posted 11 sacks in each of the past two seasons, one of just six defenders in the NFL to reach that level in both 2010 and 2011. He may not be obscure much longer.
--Even with the broken right thumb sustained this week by backup Chase Daniel, an injury that left New Orleans with only two functional quarterbacks -- Luke McCown and Sean Canfield -- for the final day of the club's minicamp, Saints' officials weren't exactly burning up the phone lines checking out potential training camp arms.
And it was only partly because the Saints expect they'll have a deal in place with "exclusive franchise" quarterback Brees when they report to camp in late July.
"No, there's really no one out there better than the guys we have," said one New Orleans official. "Maybe if it gets closer to camp, we'd add a guy, but not now."
There are two key dates looming in the Brees case -- June 27 and July 16 -- but even in a league that principally operates with a deadline mentality, word from both sides is that there has been no substantial movement in negotiations.
On June 27, an arbitrator will hear arguments to ascertain how many times Brees has been tagged with the franchise marker -- he was also designated by San Diego in 2005 -- in a case that will only have bearing if the quarterback doesn't sign a long-term contract and the Saints are forced to use the franchise tag again next year. The July 16 date is the more significant of the two, because that's the deadline for signing franchise players to multi-year contracts.
After July 16, Brees is limited to a one-year contract.
The consensus from the two sides in conversations with The Sports Xchange, is that nothing will be finalized until next month.
Said one person close to the talks: "I wouldn't call it acrimony, not by any means. It's more like intransigence. Both (sides) have dug in and really haven't budged a whole lot."
--Although there was a Thursday suggestion that the Seahawks and defensive end Chris Clemons are negotiating a possible extension, the report was hardly accurate.
The club did make Clemons an offer, but that was quite a while ago, and there has been no substantive dialogue since.
Unless one counts a late-week text message from agent Don Henderson to general manager John Schneider -- suggesting the two men discuss Clemons' situation on Monday -- as dialogue.
It's possible, if the men speak next week, that Henderson will propose an Osi Umenyiora-style upgrade of Clemons' contract for 2012 -- but with more money and, clearly, more perks. Last week, Umenyiora, who was scheduled to make $3.975 million in base salary for '12, with $750,000 in bonuses, agreed to a substandard contract that elevated his compensation to $6 million.
But that's only if Umenyiora plays every game, since $750,000 of the deal is tied to prorated ($46,875 per game) appearances.
There are no bonuses in the new contract and it does not include a stipulation that the Giants can't use the franchise tag on Umenyiora next spring, when he can be a free agent.
If Clemons signed an upgraded one-year contract, and had Seattle agree not to franchise him after the season, he would be a free agent at the age of 31.
Even at that age, though, chances are that Clemons, one of only six players in the NFL to have recorded at least 11 sacks in each of the last two seasons, would probably have some suitors in a league that values getting to the quarterback. Just a few more Clemons-related items: First, the stance by Seattle officials, who feigned surprise that Clemons wasn't at the minicamp this week, was a charade.
They were informed last week that Clemons, who had worked out in the Seattle area earlier this offseason, but returned home to Atlanta frustrated at the lack of progress on his contract, and skipped the OTAs, would not be present.
Second, while it's probably not a point that will sell well, it is notable that Clemons, who has started all 34 games (including playoffs) in Seattle in two seasons, has never negotiated a contract with the Seahawks.
His five-year, $12.6 million contract, entering its final season, was signed with Philadelphia as a free agent in 2008. In what has turned out to be a heist for Seattle, the Eagles traded Clemons and a fourth-round draft pick to the Seahawks in 2010 for end Darryl Tapp, In his two seasons in Philly, Tapp has 5.5 sacks, has started just three games, and might not even make the team this season.
--Two weeks ago in this space, the Tip Sheet cracked the code for the logjam at the top of the first round, citing so-called "offset" language for the sticky stalemate that has kept the top eight choices in the draft without contracts.
Since then, several media outlets have caught on to the reason for the lack of movement, and this week Dallas chief operating officer Stephen Jones even publicly acknowledged that the battle over offset language was holding up an accord with first-round cornerback Morris Claiborne.
But there is a part of the draft, surprisingly in the third round, where the bloc of unsigned players is even bigger. As of Thursday night, none of the top nine players selected at the opening of the third round had consummated deals. So what gives?
Well, it's not offset language this time, because such a negotiating chip is foreign to the third stanza.
Instead, agents for players in the top nine of the third round are attempting to maximize the 25-percent rule on base salaries. And the teams have balked.
Also coming into play was a contract negotiated by Denver last season for its third-rounder, linebacker Nate Irving, the third pick in the round in 2011.
Irving got a signing bonus that was pretty well slotted ($695,000), but his overall deal fell well below what the slot should have been. Each of the nine players drafted after Irving outdistanced him in terms of total compensation and per-year average, and that aberration at the No. 3 spot in the round has caused problems.
--Dovetailing nicely with a piece this week by Jason Cole of Yahoo!, which details the decreasing importance of the left tackle position at a time when quarterbacks are unloading the ball quickly, there could be notable turnover at the critical pass protection spot this season in the league.
For a variety of reasons that include retirement (Matt Light in New England), free agency defection (Buffalo's Demetress Bell) or shaky performance in 2011 (Doug Free of Dallas), there could be as many as seven new starting left tackles among the 32 teams in 2012.
That's a pretty significant turnover for a position that, over the years, has exemplified stability.
But if line coaches have been accurate with their comments from OTAs and minicamps, the projected newcomers at left tackle have progressed nicely as a group during the offseason workouts.
That's been especially true of Cowboys' second-year veteran Tyron Smith, who played right tackle in 2011 after Dallas tabbed him with the ninth overall choice in last year's draft, but who will flip with Free for 2012.
The Cowboys always suspected the former Southern Cal star was a left tackle, and now Smith seems to have reinforced that notion.
"He's taken to it so well; (he's) a natural (left tackle), the feet, the technique, everything about him," first-year line coach Bill Callahan told The Sports Xchange. "He could be special there."
--There will be camp competition for the No. 1 running back spot in as many as five places, and that's assuming franchise players Ray Rice and Matt Forte reach contract agreements, Trent Richardson isn't a holdout, Adrian Peterson is healthy, and Maurice Jones-Drew reports for camp.
"There's going to be a lot of pressure," allowed Pittsburgh's Isaac Redman, expected to replace a rehabbing Rashard Mendenhall in the Steelers' lineup, at least for the start of the season. "It's a position where guys can come out of nowhere and surprise you. So you want to take nothing for granted."
Even with the battle for starting jobs, teams figure to continue the practice of utilizing more backs to reduce the workloads of their high profile runners.
There were just two players last season with 300 carries, the fewest since 1993.
And Jones-Drew was the only starting back to average 20 carries per outing, again the fewest since '93. On the flip side, 19 teams had at least two backs register 100 or more attempts each, the most ever. "I don't know that it's a 'by committee' thing as much as it is a realization of the demands of the position," said BenJarvus Green-Ellis of Cincinnati, expected to spit time with Bernard Scott in replacing workhorse Cedric Benson.
"It's likely you're just not going to see as many 300-carry backs anymore."
Between 2000-2010, the league averaged 8.5 backs per year with 300 or more attempts.
--Barring a dramatic and unexpected change of heart, Pittsburgh officials do not intend to reduce the one-year restricted free agent tender to wide receiver Mike Wallace on Friday.
General manager Kevin Colbert admitted as much on Thursday to local reporters.
Per the CBA, the Steelers have the right to drop the tender from its present $2.7 million to $577,500, or 110 percent of Wallace's 2011 salary of $525,000, since he has not signed the tender. As reported in this space last week, and then again by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this week, the Steelers prefer a conciliatory stance rather than a hardball approach.
The Steelers aren't exactly thrilled privately that the three-year veteran has stayed away altogether from all offseason workouts, and team president Art Rooney II tersely noted, "He should be here," when asked about Wallace's absence from a mandatory three-day minicamp this week.
But despite a lack of movement, or even substantive discussions with agent Bus Cook, the team remains hopeful of being able to sign Wallace to a long-term contract.
At something closer to its price, of course, and not Wallace's bloated contract target.
--Defensive end Aaron Kampman was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars this week, after appearing in just 11 games (eight starts) for the club the past two seasons, and there is speculation the 10-year veteran will retire.
That might eventually be the case, but only if no one offers Kampman, who will turn 33 on Nov. 30, a chance that he finds to his liking.
And that almost certainly means a 4-3 defensive team, perhaps one with a playoff shot, and one that could afford him the opportunity to ring up 5-8 sacks at least as a situation rusher.
Kampman would like to play in 2012, and has said that he is healthy enough to contribute. Hampered by knee problems the last several years, Kampman, who signed a four-year, $24 million contract with the Jags in 2010, despite an ACL injury in Green Bay in '08, had only four sacks during his time in Jacksonville, but 54 of his 58 career sacks have come as a 4-3 end.
When he played strong-side linebacker for the Packers in 2009, Kampan registered just 3.5 sacks, his fewest since he had two in his year in the league.
In the three-year stretch 2008-2010, Kampman notched 37 sacks, including a career best 15.5 in '06, while lining up at the left end slot. He's had ACL surgery on both knees, but still feels he's got something left, and is hoping some 4-3 club feels the same way.
--Agreed, this edition of the Tip Sheet is a little over-weighted toward the Pacific Northwest but, even with the lopsided nature, it's worth noting that this week's minicamp in Seattle reinforced the notion that the Seahawks' secondary might be very good in 2012.
The projected starting cornerbacks, Brandon Browner (right) and Richard Sherman (left), are each entering just their second seasons in the NFL. But Sherman, who started 10 games as a rookie, continued in minicamp to show that he has made excellent strides.
And Browner, a CFL refugee, was named to the Pro Bowl last season. Free safety Earl Thomas is already regarded as one of the best players at the position after just two seasons.
Fellow third-year veteran and strong safety Kam Chancellor isn't the greatest cover guy around, but is a physical hitter who some rumored to possibly be shifting to linebacker for 2012.
"A very talented, young group ... and one that is growing up together," said nine-year veteran corner Marcus Trufant, who probably will play the nickel spot after appearing in a career low four games last season because of a back injury. "If they stay together, they're going to do some great things." The Seahawks statistically ranked 11th versus the pass in 2011, and allowed the sixth-lowest opponent quarterback rating (74.8) and the second-fewest completions of 20 yards or more (43).
--With so many teams seeking No. 3 and No. 4 safeties who can play special teams, and at bargain basement prices, there's still some mystery about why seven-year pro Chris Harris is still looking for a job and can't get a nibble at this point.
Harris, 29, has 88 starts on his resume, and 16 interceptions, including three seasons with three or more pickoffs.
Granted, Harris is arguably better versus the run and as a big hitter -- the former Louisiana-Monroe standout led the NFL with eight forced fumbles in 2007, setting a Carolina franchise record -- but one would think someone would call with a veteran minimum-level deal before camp begins.
That's what Harris thinks, too, but the phone isn't ringing yet.
-There is little doubt the release of second-year quarterback Nathan Enderle by Chicago on Thursday was tied to the departure of offensive coordinator Mike Martz earlier this spring. The former Idaho star, a fifth-round choice in 2011 who never played a snap as a rookie, was labeled as Martz's "boy." Unfair or not, it's true that Martz personally scouted Enderle before the '11 draft, and made it clear to Bears' officials he wanted the guy.
-The saga of free agent linebacker Brian Banks, the former Southern Cal recruit who was exonerated of rape charges after spending five years in prison and is auditioning for a number of clubs, is obviously one of the feel-good stories of the offseason.
But several of the assistant coaches for teams with whom Banks has worked out concede they will be shocked if he advances to an NFL training camp. Banks' story, though, is drawing plenty of interest from movie producers, a few of them prominent names. -
-Maurice Jones-Drew had 343 carries in 2011, and that was more than twice as many as the other five tailbacks currently on the Jaguars' roster have for their combined NFL careers. Rashad Jennings, Montell Owens, DuJuan Harris, Jalen Parmale and Richard Murray have 153 rushes among them. Even adding the attempts by Jacksonville fullbacks only pushes the total to 420.
-Outside of the logjams in the first and third rounds cited above, the biggest stretch of unsigned players in any round is just four slots.
-Ironic, isn't it, that a considerable number of coaches privately groused about the reduction of offseason practices this year, yet so many cut short their minicamps by a day.
Some of the activities the coaches substituted for on-field work may be great team-building exercises, but coaches might want to bite their lips in the future when griping about the lack of practice days mandated by the CBA.
-The play of second-year defensive back Ras-I Dowling at the New England minicamp this week, and the expectations of the Patriots' staff for the former University of Virginia star, could provide the team plenty of flexibility in the secondary.
Dowling, drafted at the top of the second round in 2011, appeared in just two games as a rookie, before landing on injured reserve with leg and hip injuries. But he can play cornerback, and possibly safety, and where the Pats decide to put him will help determine where Devin McCourty lines up.
-Regarding the left tackle shake-up noted earlier, the Falcons will give former first-rounder Sam Baker (2008) every chance to regain the starting job he lost to journeyman Will Svitek for much of the 2011 season. Atlanta coaches feel that a variety of elements -- a return to health, the presence of new like coach Pat Hill, and a emphasis on movement in what is purported to be an emphasis on the screen game -- will benefit the four-year veteran. That said, there won't be as much patience with Baker as there's been in the past.
-Teams expect that veteran players will be able to mentally assimilate new schemes, but that apparently hasn't been the case for wide receiver Chad Ochocinco. Clearly a creature of habit, Ochocinco struggled with the nuances of the New England offense in 2011, and it remains to be seen how well he picks up the Miami offense for 2012. Interesting is that, in the first 10 years of his career, in Cincinnati, Ochocinco, played in one system and for one coordinator, Bob Bratkowski.
-All these years, the popular perception was that late Oakland owner Al Davis tinkered extensively with the Raiders' offense. That's why it was interesting this week when safety Michael Huff pulled back the curtain a bit and allowed that the mettlesome Davis also "had his hands" on the team's defense as well, and that "everybody knew" what the unit was going to do.
-There were only six Division II players selected from the 253 prospects taken in the draft, and St. Louis took half of them: cornerback Janoris Jenkins (North Alabama, second round, via Florida, of course), kicker Greg Zuerlein (Missouri Western, sixth) and running back Daryl Richardson (Abilene Christian, seventh).
The last word: "They're forced to care now, because it's politically correct to care. Lawsuits make you care. I think the P.R. makes you care. But personally, when I got out (of the game) in 1983, do I think they cared about me? No. And you know what? I don't expect them to. I don't need them to worry about me. I take care of myself. But do they care? They're forced to care right now, because P.R.-wise, it's not very favorable to them." --Hall of Fame quarterback and Fox Sports studio analyst Terry Bradshaw, to Jay Leno this week, on concussions.
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.