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Labor uncertainty affects players in limbo

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Adam Caplan

Adam Caplan is our newest NFL reporter/insider at FOXSports.com. He has spent the past 10 seasons covering the league, specializing in player personnel, injuries and contracts.

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Labor uncertainty isn’t good for anyone. For players who are looking to move elsewhere with their careers, the prolonged impasse could affect whether they stay or go.

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Such is the case with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb.

Kolb, who was handed the starting job after veteran Donovan McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins, signed a one-year extension worth $12.26 million in April. The team guaranteed his entire contract through the duration (2011), so it obviously felt he was ready to play.

However, Kolb wound up losing the top job on the quarterback depth chart to Michael Vick shortly after the 2010 regular season started.

Kolb, who was selected in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft to succeed McNabb, has performed fairly well during his time on the field.

He’s only scheduled to earn $1.392 million in base salary for the 2011 season, which is fully guaranteed, so keeping him on the 53-man roster as Vick’s backup this coming season is quite palatable for the team.

The Eagles have a decision to make with Kolb, and the longer labor uncertainty exists, the more likely he will remain with the team.

Labor uncertainty affects roster decisions

Kolb’s situation isn’t unique. Several teams have roster decisions pending, but for different reasons.

Teams must decide whether to pay upcoming roster bonuses. Some teams made decisions on players who were due roster bonuses by the start of the new league year.

Veterans such as A.J. Hawk, Justin Bannan, Jamal Williams, Daniel Graham, Donald Lee, Kris Jenkins and Clinton Portis were released earlier this year because they either had roster bonuses due or their salaries were guaranteed if they were on the roster by certain date. Hawk was re-signed the day after he was released before his $10 million salary would have been guaranteed.

But many other veterans have been recently cut loose because their salaries were deemed to be too high. Some teams seemed to be less willing to restructure deals so far this year, according to several prominent player agents FOXSports.com spoke to about contractual issues.

The Jets cleared over $16 million this week off the books based on base salaries, workout bonuses and roster bonuses. The Redskins saved $5 million after their roster moves. The Broncos saved over $14.2 million.

Labor uncertainty affects drafting decisions

If for whatever reason labor uncertainty goes past this year’s NFL Draft in late April, that could have a major effect on the draft plans for several teams.

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And Kolb is a player whose future could be decided on draft day.

There’s a strong belief with personnel sources that if the new CBA is not signed by draft weekend, Kolb will stay with the Eagles for the final season of his contract. Teams are prohibited from trading players during the draft if no new CBA has been completed. Teams can only trade draft picks.

The Eagles could find it hard to justify trading Kolb after the draft because the compensation they would get in return for the right-handed thrower wouldn’t be able to be used until at least the 2012 NFL Draft. So, in a sense, the team that would be receiving him in the possible trade would get a free rental for one season — unless players were sent back to the Eagles. And, as noted previously, he’s set to earn less than $2 million in base salary, which makes him very attractive to other teams.

Sources believe the market for Kolb should be very strong because there are so many teams that are in need of a starting quarterback or that are trying to figure out who will be the future at the position for the next six to eight years. Kolb turns 27 in August.

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And if the labor uncertainty extends through draft weekend, that means free agency will not have taken place leading up to the event.

That would mean teams might have to fill their positional needs not with veterans, but with kids 21 or 22 years of age. But that hasn’t been a problem for this year’s two Super Bowl participants, the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, who have primarily built their rosters through the draft.

As long as labor uncertainty goes away at least a week or so before the draft, then it will be business as usual. If it extends into May or beyond, it could have a profound effect on rosters this season.

And keep in mind there are more players scheduled to become free agents than in previous years, so it will take a bit longer for the key players to go off the market in the first week of the signing period.

Yes, labor uncertainty isn’t good for anyone.

Tagged: Packers, Eagles, Redskins, Kevin Kolb

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