March 15, 2010

Saints RFA DT Hargrove to visit Detroit; poison pill possibility

The Saints net sum of transactions so far in free agency 2010 have been the loss of defensive stalwart Scott Fujita, a host of minor re-signings, one incoming visit (free agent DT James Hall) and a few misses (DT Jamal Williams, QB Jake Delhomme, RB LaDainian Tomlinson?).

That may change soon.

Reserve defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove is a restricted free agent with a third-round pick price tag on his head and will be visiting Detroit on Tuesday March 16.

Should he sign an offer sheet with the Lions, the Saints would have seven days to consider matching the offer. Should they match, Hargrove becomes a Saint under those contract terms - essentially, the Lions did the negotiating work for the Saints. Should they decline, Hargrove becomes a Lion, and their 3rd round pick goes to the Saints.

Additionally, restricted free agent Mike Bell will make his second visit. Last week he met with Seattle, now he will meet with Philadelphia.

Bell is a restricted free agent tendered at a level with no compensation for the Saints should he leave. The Saints do have right of first refusal on any contract offer sheet Bell signs.

This is the point where Saints fans should become familiar with the term "poison pill."

The trick is in the wording above - Hargrove becomes a Saint under contract terms that the Lions negotiated. When new teams sign players to restricted offer sheets, they usually (and honestly) do so by offering to play the player more than the old team would care to pay.

For example, the Saints front-loaded their contract offer to CB Jason David in 2007, forcing the Colts' hand to let him leave.

However, three prominent poison pill cases in the past were not so conventional.

The Jets stole RB Curtis Martin from the Patriots with a "poison pill," including language in the contract that would make Martin an unrestricted free agent after only one year if the Patriots matched in 1998.

In 2005, the Vikings used a poison pill to prevent Seattle from matching an offer sheet for star guard Steve Hutchinson. That contract guaranteed the entire balance of Hutchinson's contract if he wasn't the highest-paid offensive lineman on the team. With star LT Walter Jones having recently signed a big contact, had Seattle matched the offer it would have made Hutchinson's contract instantly guaranteed - $49 million. That cap burden would have been damaging to Seattle, or any team.

The Seahawks responded by signing Vikings WR Nate Burleson to a sardonically-matching seven year, $49 million contract offer. This one included a "poison pill" that required Burleson's contact be guaranteed should he play a certain number of games inside the state of Minnesota. To the Seahawks, thanks to certain unlikely incentives, the contract offer was a mere four year, $14 million deal.

The concept of a poison pill was hotly debated after the Seahawks and Vikings sparred via Hutchinson and Burleson, with the Player's Union in favor of them because it furthered the ability of players to move from team to team.

The league disliked it for obvious competitive reasons, and the Vikings caught a storm of strife from the league afterwards. The method is entirely permissible in the books, though that it hasn't happened on such a large scale since 2005 gives belief that the league has strongly discouraged it.

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