That was the threshold throughout free agency until 2010, when the rules for an "uncapped" season raised the bar to six seasons. There were a goodly number of disgruntled players who were unable to test the unrestricted market because of the "uncapped" rules, and who were forced to play under one-year restricted free agent tenders, rather than benefitting from total freedom.
That is likely to change when there is a CBA accord.
"Music to my ears," said one prominent agent, who represents several players with four seasons of experience, and whose clients figure to attract multiple suitors if the unrestricted requirement returns to four years. "We're talking about the difference between maybe playing for the (restricted) tender, and hoping to be free after five years, and having the leverage of being on the open market now. It's huge."
Last week, The Sports Xchange reported that there were solid indications the unrestricted requirement would be dialed back to four seasons, and that approximately 130 players could be affected by such a move. The dial-back, if it is, indeed, a component of a new CBA, would dramatically upgrade the talent pool available during the free agency signing period.
The restricted, one-year tenders offered to most four-year veterans earlier in the spring would be meaningless. Personnel departments would be able to include four-year veterans in their free agency planning, although several general managers have indicated to The Sports Xchange they had assessed the four-year players as part of their planning.
There are a few four-year veterans who were designated as franchise free agents — center Ryan Kalil (Carolina), inside linebacker David Harris (New York Jets) and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (Pittsburgh) — and all three signed their one-year tenders as such before the lockout commenced. All are likely to continue negotiations on long-term deals once a CBA agreement is reached.
Even minus those players, the pool of four-year veterans who should be available in unrestricted free agency is an intriguing one. Impressive enough, in fact, to merit this fairly interesting all-star team:
WR: Sidney Rice (Minnesota)
WR: Steve Smith (New York Giants).
TE: Zach Miller (Oakland).
LT: Doug Free (Dallas).
LG: Justin Blalock (Atlanta).
C: Samson Satele (Oakland).
RG: Harvey Dahl (Atlanta).
RT: Marshal Yanda (Baltimore).
QB: Trent Edwards (Jacksonville).
FB: Le'Ron McClain (Baltimore).
RB: Ahmad Bradshaw (New York Giants).
LE: Charles Johnson (Carolina).
DT: Brandon Mebane (Seattle).
DT: Antonio Johnson (Indianapolis).
RE: Stylez White (Tampa Bay).
SLB: Stephen Nicholas (Atlanta).
MLB/ILB: Stewart Bradley (Philadelphia).
WLB: Clint Session (Indianapolis).
CB: Josh Williams (Baltimore).
CB: Chris Houston (Detroit).
FS: Eric Weddle (San Diego).
SS: Melvin Bullitt (Indianapolis).
K: Mason Crosby (Green Bay).
P: Sav Rocca (Philadelphia).
KR: Steve Breaston (Arizona).
Coverage: Corey Graham (Chicago).