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Old 03-02-2011, 06:11 AM   #1
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Default Bonuses on hold for several Steelers

Bonuses on hold for several Steelers
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If linebacker James Harrison thought his $100,000 in fines last season hurt, he is about to find a hole in his pocket nine fold.

The Steelers will owe their All-Pro a $900,000 roster bonus Friday, but, unless the NFL and players union come to a highly unexpected agreement by midnight Thursday on a new collective bargaining agreement, Harrison won't see that money Friday or perhaps for six months or more.

Harrison should not feel too bad because rookie Maurkice Pouncey is due an option bonus this month of more than $5 million that he won't see for maybe quite some time.

And that first-round tender contract offer they made Willie Colon Tuesday as a "restricted" free agent? That most likely will be as elusive as the Steelers' seventh Lombardi Trophy.

The players and owners will continue to meet with a federal mediator in Washington today, but no significant progress has been reported after nearly two weeks of such discussions. The NFL, meanwhile, will convene a meeting of all 32 owners or top executives today just outside of the nation's capital.

That is when the owners are expected to approve a lockout of their players if there's no new CBA when the current one expires at midnight Thursday. That expiration/lockout will bring the NFL to a halt, which means none of the roster/option/delayed signing bonuses due at the start of the next calendar year will be paid until, well, there is a next calendar year.

And that may take awhile.

"There's not going to be a big push by anyone to take less than what they want at this point," said safety Ryan Clark, the Steelers' union representative to the NFL Players Association. "There's time to negotiate and get what's fair. Both sides will continue to work toward what they feel is a fair goal for them."

That could mean a lockout through the usual training camp periods or longer.

There is little pressure to strike a deal more than six months before the regular season is scheduled to begin and there's little money being lost at the moment. Players receive their salaries only during the season. The exceptions are those in the minority who have bonuses due this month based on contracts that were signed previously --and they won't receive that money until there's a new CBA.

"Nothing will be paid until the first day of the new league year," said Bill Parise, Harrison's agent. "We're going to get paid sooner or later. The impasse won't last forever. We'll play football this year. I think everybody feels that way."

That last point is debatable, but Harrison has plenty of company among those who must wait longer for their March bonuses. Steelers in the same boat range from the youngest, Pouncey, to the most veteran, Hines Ward. March bonuses have become more prevalent over the past decade as teams tried to minimize the effect of signing bonuses on salary caps and also as a way of permitting them to release a player before the bonus comes due as the Steelers did with Joey Porter in 2007.

Parise said Harrison has been aware for quite some time that his March bonus might not come in a timely manner and was prepared for it. The union has been telling its players for two years to prepare for such things.

For those who have not, missing that balloon payment could signal the first bit of hardships the players will experience because of a lockout.

"It is if you budgeted money for the spring and come up short," said agent Eric Metz, a Monroeville native.

The NFL continues to operate as usual, even though it can see the cliff it is about to reach by the end of Thursday.

Many teams are even sending out restricted tender offers to players who usually would become unrestricted free agents Friday, and that includes the Steelers. Under past CBA rules, players would become unrestricted after four years of service. That changed last year when rules changed for the final year of the CBA -- players could not become unrestricted until they had six years of service.

Colon was among those affected; he was restricted last year rather than unrestricted, and for the third consecutive year, the Steelers have tendered him a contract as such. He earned $2,198,000 last season.

A new CBA, though, is unlikely to make players go six years before becoming unrestricted free agents so the Steelers' tender to Colon likely will be rendered useless, ultimately.

"Obviously, the union doesn't expect that to be upheld," Metz said of the RFA tenders to players who have completed at least four years. "That was what the strikes in the '80s were for; they're not going to give that back."

Agent Joe Linta confirmed the tender to Colon. The Steelers have two potential RFAs in quarterback Dennis Dixon and offensive tackle Tony Hills, but there was no word on whether they received tenders or not.

Metz has two clients who have received one-year contract tenders from the Arizona Cardinals as restricted free agents, even though they have four years of service behind them. One is wide receiver/punt returner Steve Breaston, who played at Woodlands Hills High School. The other is starting center Lyle Sendlein.

"That's' happening," said agent Ralph Cindrich of Pittsburgh who also has players in that situation. "No one knows for sure if they'll hold up."

It's a world of unknown the entire NFL appears about to enter.
Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11061...#ixzz1FRYi6Ghy
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