The Chargers currently have 4 players that have been offered contracts as restricted free agents, but have refrained from signing these contracts. By not signing these contracts they are basically forced to stay away from any of the Chargers offseason training activities and mini camps. The Chargers offered contracts to other restricted free agents on the team, but only these 4 who were all offered at contracts at or near the highest level allowed decided not to sign. The 4 players are Shawne Merriman, Marcus McNeill, Malcom Floyd and Vincent Jackson.
Those are the facts.
These are the opinions:
From a General Manager's perspective there's not much more to be done to resolve the contract squabbles with these players. Everything Charger Management has done regarding these players is exactly within the rules. It is not the Chargers fault that the rules are slightly different in 2010 than they were in 2009. Of course, it is also with the Chargers interest to field a team as cheaply as possible without sacrificing wins and this rule change is designed to help them do that. It is also in the best interest of the team for the GM to ensure that these 4 players get on the field because all 4 are starters on this team and can be the difference between wins and losses in 2010. It is also important to think about the future of the team beyond 2010 and all 4 of these players would most likely be considered assets beyond the 2010 season. However, it is unknown at this point as to what all the rules regarding contracts will be beyond the 2010 season. Without knowing the rules it could be considered quite difficult to structure the contract so that is beneficial to both parties. As a GM, I think it's fair to say that A.J. Smith is fairly conservative when it comes to handing out big contracts and with so much unknown past this season it makes sense that he would be very conservative when considering creating new long term contracts in 2010. I would be surprised if A.J. hasn't also made this clear to the agents of the 4 players that these are the only contracts the Chargers will offer for 2010. If that's the case then there doesn't seem to be sense in continuing to leave those offers unsigned.
From the player and player agent perspective the most important thing from the business side of football is to get the biggest contract possible as soon as possible. The rule changes from 2009 to 2010 effectively delayed these players big money earning potential. There were even some complaints about how this wasn't fair for them to be treated differently from their predecessors even though this rule change was known years in advance. It would seem that because this rule change hurt these restricted free agents moreso than previous restricted free agents that they feel they are entitled to something more. This strikes me as slightly irrational. From an outsider's perspective it does not appear that these restricted free agents have any more leverage than any previous restricted free agents. As in the past, the most amount of leverage that a player can get in contract negotiations before unrestricted free agency is to hold out. This has proven to be a high risk strategy where actually missing games can lead to a harsh reaction from the fans and media. So instead many restricted free agents will just skip the offseason activities and refuse to sign the contract offered by the team. This does not gain much leverage since GM's can usually see through this ploy, but it also doesn't generate much venom from fans or the media. There is some risk involved in that at a certain point the team can actually choose to renew the players previous contract with a modest raise. For 3 of the Chargers players who have not signed their contracts this would be a value less than what they were offered by restricted free agency rules, however it seems unlikely that the team would take this route because of the increase in animosity that it would cause.
From one fan's perspective I'm thinking: So what's the point? Why go through the motions of all this? It feels like the classic staredown in a boxing pre-fight press conference. You know they aren't going to fight this out soon yet they are pretending like they are going to brawl at any second. It's silly and it makes me feel like the players aren't taking this thing seriously. Like they think that if they bitch and moan enough people will hand them more money. It also seems like there is almost a peer pressure to do these fake holdouts since it has become the cool thing to do for restricted free agents even though it rarely works. I say just come into work, sign your multimillion dollar 1 year contract and prove that you deserve something better next year. Don't posture for the sake of posturing. If you really want to hold out then do it for real and don't fake it. Of course, maybe these players are really going to hold out. Would they have said so if they were? According to the rules, they need to play 6 games in 2010 in order to qualify for unrestricted free agency in 2011. Are we ready to only see some of these guys for only 6 games?