Henson's options limited by CBA

Respected football journalists such as Bob McGinn, John McClain and Len Pasquarelli have written about it. The New York Times supported their findings. Houston Texans GM Charlie Casserly even laid the plan on the public table.<br><br> But have any of the above taken a look at the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement? That's where the plan to draft, sign and trade Drew Henson falls apart.

According to the aforementioned, in stories throughout this past football season, the Houston Texans drafted Henson with the intention of signing him and trading him to a team that needs a quarterback. Henson was ranked as a high first-rounder before he left the University of Michigan with two years of eligibility remaining, following the 2000 season, in order to play baseball for the New York Yankees.

In a Jan. 28 story on why Henson isn't a consideration to replace injured Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone, the New York Times also published that "The Houston Texans own Henson's rights and want to sign him and trade him, but Henson may go back into the draft in April."

If The Times didn't check its facts, the paper relied on what Casserly told ESPN.com's Pasquarelli the previous day.

"This is how [a team] beats the system," Casserly said. "How else are you going to get a young quarterback of this caliber? You can say you're going to take him in the draft but there are no guarantees. With a trade, he's yours, and you don't have to worry about somebody jumping ahead of you and grabbing him."

OK. That sets the scene. Those Steelers fans who've been following the saga, ever since Henson's agent listed the Steelers as one of three teams that most interest his client, already knew all of this. But then there are these facts:

Article XVI, Section 4, paragraph B of the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement states: If a Drafted Rookie has not signed a Player Contract during the period from the date of such Draft to the thirtieth day prior to the beginning of the regular season: (i) the Club that drafted the player may not thereafter trade to another Club either its exclusive negotiating rights to such player or any Player Contract that it signs with such player for the player's initial League Year; and (ii) the Club that drafted the player is the only Club with which the player may sign a Player Contract until the day of the Draft in the subsequent League Year, at which time such player is eligible to be drafted in the subsequent League Year's Draft by any Club except the Club that drafted him in the initial Draft. (After the Tuesday following the tenth week of the regular season, the player and the Club may only sign a Player Contract for future League Year(s)).

In other words, for the Texans to trade Henson before losing his rights on the day of the 2004 draft, they must sign him to a contract for future league year(s).

Now, that contract can't be too high, since the Texans would have to take the hit on the rookie allocation pool in that rookie year, per:

Article XVII, Section 4: (a) No Club may enter into Player Contracts with Drafted Rookies that, standing alone or in the aggregate, provide for Salaries in the first League Year of such Player contracts that would exceed the Club's Rookie Allocation for that year.

Nor can the Texans make the contract too low, since:

Article XVII, Section 4: (e) No Player Contract signed by a Rookie may provide for an annual increase in Salary of more than 25% of the contract's first League Year.

The Texans, of course, can't compensate for the minimum-wage salary with a large signing bonus, either, because they would take the cap hit on the entire bonus once the trade is made. But what about a renegotiation of the contract after the trade is made?

Article XVII, Section 4: (f) The Player Contract of a Drafted Rookie or Undrafted Rookie may not be renegotiated for a one (1) year period following the date of the initial signing of such Player Contract, or until August 1 of the following League Year, whichever is later.

Now, perhaps the Texans' trading partner can extend the contract as opposed to renegotiating the contract and Henson would be happy with a bonus-less, minimum-wage first season. And perhaps there are loopholes that aren't apparent in the above clauses.

Maybe the NFL will return phone calls next week, after the Super Bowl, to explain all of this. Or maybe someone in the Steelers' front office will return phone calls after enjoying this week off. But in the meantime, all we have is the apparent airtight verbiage of the CBA, that, when broken down, spells out: Not worth the trouble if you're worrying more about your running game.

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