Up for grabs

The Green Bay Packers reportedly placed five veteran players for the expansion Houston Texans to choose from in the February access draft.<p>

While it seems unlikely that the Texans will choose anyone that the Packers have to offer, there is a possibility that they make take Houston native Santana Dotson and possibly middle linebacker Bernardo Harris. Others include long snapper Rob Davis, linebacker K.D. Williams and defensive end John Thierry.

The Packers are expected to officially announce the list this week. Other candidates could be wide receiver Antonio Freeman, center Frank Winters and running back Dorsey Levens. Winters and Dotson cannot be on the list together because they have each have 10 or more seasons of experience.

Houston, which begins play in the upcoming season, will draft between 30 to 42 players (or players with total 2002 salaries of at least 38 percent of the Texans' 2002 salary cap of around $71 million) from the rosters of the other NFL clubs on Feb. 18 (ESPN, 1 p.m. CST).

With the exception of Williams, it is unlikely that any of the Packers will be taken because of their high price tags. Harris signed a four-year contract last spring that included a $3.125 million signing bonus. Dotson will count $3.3 million against next season's salary cap. Freeman has a base salary of $5.7 million next season. Thierry is scheduled to be paid $3.5 million in 2002 and had three off-season surgeries last year. Davis, a specialist, has to be paid the veterans' minimum of $477,000.

Williams, a backup linebacker and key special teams player, seems to be the most likely to be taken by the Texas. He has started 11 games between Oakland and Green Bay in the 1999 and 2000 seasons. He didn't start any games in 2001, but led special teams with 17 tackles.

The Texans have to assume the salary of any veterans it selects.

The plan also will enable the Texans to:

– Select a combined total of 14 extra rookie players in the next two college drafts (same as 1999 expansion Cleveland and 1995 expansion Carolina and Jacksonville in their first two drafts).

– Sign veteran free agents between February and July 2002 under the same terms as the league's other 31 clubs and same terms as the expansion Cleveland club in 1999 and expansion Carolina and Jacksonville teams in 1995.

"The plan is very similar to the one we used for Cleveland," said NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. "It is designed to offer the Texans the opportunity to become competitive at an early date."

The veteran access draft will require the existing 31 clubs to submit a list of five veteran players for selection by the Texans. Each club can expose only one player who was placed on injured reserve after the start of the 2001 regular season, only one player who has 10 or more years of free agency experience, and no more than two players with "spiked contracts" in 2002 (description below).

Neither punters nor kickers may be part of the list. The two clubs losing in the conference championship games must submit their lists by Jan. 29, while the two Super Bowl teams must submit their lists by Feb. 5.

A "spiked contract" is defined as a contract in which:

A. The 2002 salary cap value is at least $1.2 million and represents an increase of at least 75 percent over the 2001 salary cap value; AND

B. The 2002 cash value is at least $1.2 million and represents an increase of at least 75 percent over the 2001 cash value.

The Texans must select between 30 and 42 players in the veteran draft or a fewer number of players with total salaries of 38 percent of the cap. An existing club can recall one player from its list after one of its players is selected. After a second player is selected from a club, that club can pull back both of its remaining players.

Houston will have 28 choices in the NFL Draft over the next two years, 14 in 2002, and 14 in 2003. If the Texans make the playoffs in 2002, the team will not have extra picks in 2003.

In the 2002 draft (April 20-21), the Texans will receive the first pick in each of the seven rounds. They will also receive seven additional picks to be allocated in the following manner:

– One selection in each of Rounds 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 after all teams with a 2001 regular-season winning percentage of less than .500.

– Final selection in Round 7 (after all compensatory selections).

In the 2003 draft, Houston will receive one regular pick per round based on its 2002 record, the same as all other clubs.

The Texans will also receive seven additional picks in the 2003 draft – unless they make the playoffs in 2002, in which case they will receive no extra picks. These picks will vary depending upon Houston's 2002 won-loss percentage, as reflected in the following year's draft order.

In 2001 and 2002, Houston will be prohibited from trading any draft picks to acquire rights to sign or obtain the contractual release of any non-player personnel (e.g., coach, general manager).

The Texans may begin signing previously-terminated free agents this year. From December 27 until the end of the 2001 regular season, Houston may sign a maximum of 10 free agents (not under contract to other teams) to 2002 contracts.

The Texans will be eligible to sign both restricted and unrestricted free agents during the 2002 veteran free agency signing period, which begins March 1. They will have the same access to veteran free agents as the other 31 clubs.

During the period from February 18 until July 15, however, the Texans' roster must include at least 30 players acquired from the veteran access draft or a fewer number of players acquired in the veteran draft with total salaries of at least 38 percent of the 2002 salary cap. Any of these players who are released after June 1 are entitled to a supplemental expansion bonus equal to the player's minimum Collective Bargaining Agreement salary even if he subsequently signs with another team.

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