Without a new collective bargaining agreement being reached between the players and owners, we are going to have to wait longer than normal for free agency to begin. If there isn't a new CBA in place by March 4, teams will not be able to sign available free agents nor will they be able to re-sign their own impending free agents.
While on the surface, some might think this benefits teams who have a number of key free agents because it allows them more time to evaluate their own players and make a plan for how they will spend their money this offseason, this actually adversely affects these teams in regards to their own free agents. Because of the rules currently in place that turned 2010 - known as the "final league year - into a year without a salary cap, teams must abide by something called the "30 percent rule." Essentially, the rule was put in place to try and keep spending under control and one of it's side effects is how it restricts teams from re-signing their own free agents. Basically, teams can't give a player a salary this year that is in excess of a 30 percent increase from their previous year's salary.
Therefore players that outplayed their recently expired contract cannot land that large pay day they were probably hoping for. What this means for a team like the Dolphins, for example, is that re-signing a player who has earned a fairly dramatic raise isn't possible between now and March 4 because league rules prevent the kind if raise that the player (and his agent) are seeking. However, if a new CBA is reached after March 4, there's a very good chance there will be no grace period in place for teams to attempt to re-sign their impending free agents before the hit the open market as unrestricted free agents.
It goes without saying that this will make it a bit more complicated for teams to retain their own players. One of the things the Dolphins, like most teams, will have to do is prioritize their own free agents and decide which player they must re-sign first. So I wanted to ask all of you who you believe this front office should make a priority to re-sign once a new CBA is finally reached. Below are some possibilities.
Ronnie Brown - The 29 year old back is coming off of a down year. But he loves Miami and would welcome a return assuming the Dolphins make an offer to him that he deems is acceptable. I still think he has a lot left in his tank and feel like he didn't get a fair shake in 2010 because of the struggles of the team's offensive line. But the price would have to be right.
Ricky Williams - Ricky has had an up and down career in Miami. He'll be 34 this offseason and did just recently make some disparaging remarks about head coach Tony Sparano. With Bill Parcells no longer around, Ricky's time in Miami might have come to an end.
Richie Incognito - His attitude issues were well documented when the Dolphins took a chance and signed Richie to a one year deal last offseason. The team's faith in him paid off as Incognito never fell back into his old ways during his one year in Miami. He also played well for most of the season, in particular when he got some time working as the center. You have to assume the Dolphins will be seriously considering re-signing Incognito to be the team's starting center full-time in 2011.
Paul Soliai - The big man in the middle of Miami's defense is coming off of a monster year. As expected, he'll be looking for a monster contract as well. Armando Salguero has a very informative piece about Soliai over at the Herald's site. Armando lays out the situation well. Paul is going to hit the open market and it'll be up to the Dolphins to hand over the cash to ensure he stays. But it is easy to understand the team's hesitation. He's had weight issues and is coming off of a break-out season when he happened to be in a contract year. Will he sustain his high level of play? Considering how difficult it is to find a nose tackle in this league, particularly one that has shown the kind of ability Soliai has, this is the guy I think GM Jeff Ireland needs to make his top priority.
Tony McDaniel - This reserve defense end is quietly coming off of a very productive season. But now he's looking for an expanded role and (likely) starter's money. The Dolphins already have two very good starting defensive ends in Kendall Langford and Randy Starks. They also have 2010 first round pick Jared Odrick returning this year after missing most of last year due to injury. Phillip Merling has also shown enough promise to make me think McDaniel, as good as he was in 2010, is expendable at this point.