Many have assumed that San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson would wait until Week 10 to sign his contract tender, in order to play the minimum games required to secure an accrued season and thus move closer to his departure from the team via unrestricted free agency.
However, that might not be the case. Should the Chargers opt to follow all avenues allowed to them under the collective bargaining agreement, Jackson might have to decide by Week 7 whether or not to sit out the entire season.
First, a note on Jackson's three-game suspension, which the Chargers confirmed Tuesday. It will be considered served after Week 3, regardless of whether or not Jackson has signed his tender. As an unsigned free agent, the suspension doesn't toll or roll over (if Jackson were a signed player holding out, then the suspension would toll).
So, Jackson's status as a suspended player will not impact any decision about if or when to sign a tender with the Chargers. However, there are other factors in play. According to the league office, "the CBA may impose additional restrictions depending on the date that the player ultimately signs and reports to his club."
In Jackson's case, those "additional restrictions" could loom large, as the Chargers still could place him on a "roster exempt" list for three games after he signs under certain circumstances, keeping him without pay and without earning any service time toward an accrued season in that span. A player must be on a team's active, inactive, injured reserve or physically unable to perform list for at least six regular-season games to earn an accrued season toward free agency, which is why many surmised Jackson would sign his $583,000 tender in Week 10.
According to the roster exemption rules in the CBA, if Jackson doesn't report to the Chargers by at least the day before their fourth preseason game, then whenever he does sign, he still could be placed on the roster exempt list for an additional three games -- without pay. The Chargers, who already have lowered their tender and are locked in a bitter feud with the Pro Bowl receiver, would have to notify Jackson and the NFL Players Association of their intent to place him on roster exempt at least five days before the team's second preseason game.
So, if Jackson waited until the 10th week to sign, then was placed on roster exempt, he wouldn't have the required six regular-season games to earn an accrued season. He would have to sign by Week 7 to be certain in that case.
Jackson has five accrued seasons, and he would be an unrestricted free agent if this wasn't an uncapped year. At this point, no one knows how many accrued seasons it will require to earn unrestricted free agency under the next CBA or even when that CBA would be finalized.
If Jackson plays the minimum six games, he would earn $205,675 -- a small figure in a span of time in which one could incur a serious injury impacting his future earning power. However, if Jackson sits out a season and unrestricted free agency comes at any point more than five seasons, then the Chargers could potentially still hold the receiver's rights.
The Chargers play their second preseason game on Aug. 21, so Jackson would know by Aug. 16 at the latest if his team intends to place him on roster exempt when he does sign. Regardless, this situation is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.