New CBA realities take hold in talks

Getting Harrison signed is tricky task

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The Steelers and James Harrison want the same thing, to have the NFL defensive player of the year sign a long-term contract. Negotiations have been cordial as the sides try to work out an extension beyond the 2009 season, the linebacker's last under contract.

But more than the usual impediments to getting a deal completed are present -- things such as the give-and-take of negotiations and salary-cap issues. The new concern is one in which every contract across the league must pass muster -- the fresh rules regarding the lack of a collective bargaining agreement beyond 2010.

Because the owners opted out of the CBA, 2010 will be an uncapped year and with it come new regulations. The main ones causing problems for the Steelers and other NFL teams limit contract salaries to increases of 30 percent each year from their base of 2009 and to lengths no longer than five years.

As an example, the $102 million contract Ben Roethlisberger signed last year would not work because it lasts six years and salaries range from $2 million to $14 million. It means that to get a player such as Harrison under contract, the Steelers must give him an extraordinarily large signing bonus or a cap-damaging high base salary this year.

"We're trying to work through some numbers; it's so difficult without this collective bargaining agreement because the rules are much, much, much different," said Bill Parise, Harrison's Pittsburgh agent. "We're trying to accomplish something here and we have a very restrictive environment to work in. ... We're not adversaries; we're trying to work to get this thing resolved."

But the new CBA rules crack back on creative contracts, too. For example, well-crafted incentives for 2009 that might be achieved and pushed into 2010 now go immediately against the team's salary cap if they are reached, which could cause big problems for teams operating close to their cap.

The main problem, though, is the 30 percent rule. For example, if a player earns $1 million in 2009 in a new four-year contract, his salaries for the following years cannot exceed $1.3 million, $1.6 million and $1.9 million. A higher signing bonus can avoid that, but it, too, can be prorated for only five years -- a $10 million five-year contract, for example, would count $2 million a year against the cap.

"It's very hard," Parise said. "We're trying to do stuff and working hard at it. We're going to get it done but have to be really smart guys."


Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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