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Union says it will challenge any franchise tags

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  February 3, 2011 05:35 PM

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DALLAS - Mankins v. New England Patriots and National Football League?

Don't laugh, it could happen.

In response to the league’s decision to allow teams to use franchise and transition tags starting Feb. 10 for the 2011 season, which was reported by the Globe yesterday, the NFLPA today sent out a memo telling all agents that they would file court challenges on behalf of any players who want to challenge the tag.

“We would challenge any attempt to franchise a player and to make him the victim of it by a contract that he signs,” NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen said this afternoon.

“There’s no franchise tag without a new CBA, it’s as simple as that. We have a lot of things in the agreement that say ‘in each year covered by this agreement….’ But when the agreement ends, those rights don’t survive. It’s very simple. This isn’t rocket science.”

NFL senior vice president and general counsel Peter Rucco told the Globe that the league office has informed teams they can start applying the franchise tag, which keeps unrestricted free agents on their current teams by paying them the average of the top five salaries at their position. The transition tag has a right of first refusal and takes the average of the top 10 at the position.

“The CBA hasn’t expired and the CBA has the right to franchise players so we are telling clubs that you have the right to franchise players and then depending on what the new agreement says, that will take into account,” Rucco said. “Neither party is proposing to get rid of the franchise tag. But as far as we’re concerned, clubs have the right to tag players, the agreement continues with the same terms and conditions that it has been; it isn’t expiring until March 4 and the window to franchise players is 14 days. From our standpoint, you have every right to franchise players.”

Berthlesen read the agreement another way.

“This is nothing more than the owners agreeing among themselves what they think they should be able to do,” Berthelsen said. “The collective bargaining agreement clearly says that they get one franchise player for every season covered by this agreement. They already had it for 2010; 2011 isn’t covered by this agreement so that means the right to have it ends. We don’t have a deal for 2011 that means they don’t have a right to do it for 2011. It’s as simple as that. But if they want to get together and say we’re going to do it anyhow, we can’t stop them from doing that. But the agreement doesn’t allow it.”

The application of the franchise tag would most directly affect All-Pro guard Logan Mankins, who is set to be a free agent.

The Patriots will likely tag him to make sure, as far as the league office is concerned, they will retain him pending a new collective bargaining agreement.

Then the ball would be in Mankins’ court. If he decides to legally challenge the tag -- he hasn't exactly been thrilled with the Patriots -- and wins, the judge in the case could declare him a free agent immediately.

Among those who could also be free to sign with any ballclub: Colts QB Peyton Manning, Eagles QB Michael Vick, Ravens DT Haloti Ngata and Broncos CB Champ Bailey.

Of course, the owners could come to agreement amongst themselves not to sign those players. And that would bring collusion charges from the union.

Even Berthelsen conceded the NFL had to enact the franchise tag because once those players’ contracts expire, they’re free agents. But he thinks the NFL should have discussed the move with the union instead of moving unilaterally.

“They do have a problem in you don’t franchise a player unless his contract is expired,” Berthelsen said. “So if you were to wait until after it expires and then try to assert some rights, it can be too late. But the better way to deal with the issue is to come and make an agreement with us. Not to just kind of create their own perfect world for themselves.”

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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