Some players would lose unrestricted free-agent status without cap

WASHINGTON -- Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin, Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall and six other Pro Bowl picks are among more than 200 NFL players who would lose their status as unrestricted free agents this offseason if the league and its union can't agree on a new labor contract.

According to a list obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday, there are 212 players who would be considered restricted free agents -- instead of unrestricted -- if there is no salary cap in 2010. There is at least one player from each of the NFL's 32 teams on the list.

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Pro Bowl linebackers Elvis Dumervil of the Broncos and DeMeco Ryans of the Houston Texans are in the group of potentially affected players, as are starting quarterbacks Kyle Orton of the Broncos and Jason Campbell of the Washington Redskins.

"Free agency's always been something for the players, always been a great thing," Orton said before the Broncos practiced Wednesday. "If you get one crack at free agency as a player, that's what you dream of. How it stands right now ... guys aren't going to be able to have that dream, to be a free agent. That's a shame for the players, I think."

In an uncapped year, a player would need at least six years in the NFL, up from the current minimum of four years in the league, to be an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team.

Austin was aware that his free-agency status could change, but he said he wouldn't consider his breakout season bad timing.

"I can't control any of that," he said. "I've just got to stay focused on the things I can control, and that's playing this week and playing hard."

The other Pro Bowl players who could find themselves missing out on a chance to cash in this offseason are Green Bay Packers safety Nick Collins, New England Patriots guard Logan Mankins, New Orleans Saints guard Jahri Evans and Philadelphia Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver.

In addition to the NFL's sacks leader (Dumervil) and the NFC's leader in receiving yards (Austin), other prominent names on the list include San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, New York Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards, Indianapolis Colts safety Antoine Bethea, Miami Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown and Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

"If you're a guy that's been in the league a long time, and you know you're pretty much set, you probably have a different opinion about it," Campbell said. "But if you're a guy that's in my position, it's going to affect us not just short term but long term."

If players lose out on the chance to become unrestricted free agents this offseason, they might not receive what they were expecting to be a huge payoff. They also won't have the luxury of moving freely anywhere in the league.

A restricted free agent's old team has a chance to offer the player a one-year contract at different levels of pay which determine what level of draft-choice compensation the old club would receive for losing the player. And the old team has the right to match any offer another club makes to a restricted free agent.

"If you're a free agent, of course you've got a lot of options, but if you're a restricted free agent, it's pretty much the team's choice, depending on what they want to do," Campbell said.

Other rule changes would go into effect if there is no salary cap in 2010. There would be no minimum or maximum amounts that teams could spend on payroll, and each club would have an extra "transition player" tag. A "transition player" must be offered a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of the prior season at the player's position or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, whichever is greater.

"All of a sudden, your rules change," said Campbell, one of seven Redskins players on the list. "That's the situation I've been dealt, and so have other guys on the team."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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