Free agency could cost players like Buck Veteran backups facing pay cuts


CARLISLE, Pa. -- The Washington Redskins are greeting the NFL's new free-agency era with the sound of one hand clapping.

Even though the new system has created a new class of millionaires in the NFL, the big raises apparently won't be trickling down to many of the rank-and-file players because of the looming salary cap. Many may have to cope with pay cuts and pink slips.

That's why the majority of the Redskins opposed the deal that was ratified by a vast majority of the players around the league.

One of those players was defensive lineman Jason Buck, who was a free agent this year and got his salary almost doubled to $800,000.

Along with the raise came a sobering message: If he's not a starter next year, he'll have to take a pay cut to stay with the team once the salary cap kicks in.

Buck is one of those handyman players who can play all the positions on the line. He knocked the ball out of Troy Aikman's arm in the end zone last December to set up the winning touchdown in the Redskins' 20-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

The new system, though, isn't designed to reward backups -- especially ones who don't want to move.

"If I'm not starting next year, I'll have to look at cutting my salary in order to be affordable for the team. They told me if you're still second-team, you're going to be too expensive. I understand that," Buck said.

Buck concedes that he probably would have gotten around $500,000 this year instead of $800,000 if the new system hadn't been created. But he figures he'll be back in the $400,000 range next year.

The prospect of pay cuts for veterans explains why so many Redskins opposed the system.

"I think the Redskins were the best-informed team. We got very well organized and we hired attorneys to interpret the contract. We just didn't listen to the NFLPA," Buck said.

"If we'd had a thousand players sitting in an auditorium having independent people explaining the contract, I'm sure 80 percent of the players would have voted it down. But they [NFLPA] were able to push it through in the off-season when the players on a lot of teams had scattered and gone home," he said.

Obviously, the system helped some Redskins. Linebacker Andre Collins, for example, got a three-year $5 million deal only because the Redskins didn't want him to become a free agent next year.

But the Redskins have several aging veterans such as Art Monk, Joe Jacoby and Jeff Bostic, who won't fit into the team's salary structure next year because their payroll is way over the proposed cap.

Even linebacker Monte Coleman, 35, who's still effective on passing downs in his 15th year in the league, could be a victim.

General manager Charley Casserly said: "If there's a salary cap, some salaries are going to have to be adjusted downward for the players to stay. We hope that many of our players we treated well through the years will be loyal to us in a situation where they're going to have to take considerably less money."

Buck said that NFLPA officials argued that the veterans may find other teams with lower payrolls who have to spend money to reach the minimum a team must spend.

"That's a valid argument, but for the guys who don't want to leave, it doesn't leave you with many options. I want to finish my career here. There's going to be hard choices for a lot of guys," Buck said.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad