MLS Free Agents Get A Little More Freedom

KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 09: Jimmy Conrad  of the Kansas City Wizards controls the ball during a match against the Seattle Sounders at Community America Ballpark in Kansas City, Kansas on October 9, 2010. The Sounders won 2-1. (Photo by Josh Umphrey/Getty Images)

Remember back in the scary days of March when this MLS season was on the brink due to the expired collective bargaining agreement?  And at the almost last second the two sides agreed to a new CBA, which would include more rights for the players and a re-entry draft for certain players?  MLS has finally announced the procedures for these re-entry drafts and a detailed explanation of how players can change clubs.  If you want the entire process from the source, here is the link to the MLS website.  For the sake of everyone’s sanity, however, below is a summary of how the new kinda-free-agency process will work as soon as one team raises the MLS Cup in Toronto:

On November 30, the clubs will inform MLS which eligible player options they have picked up and which players they are being tendered a Bona Fide Offer.  Players who are out of a contract and who are tendered neither of those options are eligible for the re-entry draft, provided they are at least:

  • 23 years old with 3 years MLS experience whose option was not exercised
  • 25 years old with with at least 4 years MLS experience whose contract has expired and has not received a Bona Fide Offer.
  • 30 years old with at least 8 years MLS experience whose contract has expired and has not received a Bona Fide Offer.

If a player has their option declined but fall short of the 25/4 requirement, their current team still has right of first refusal.  Between November 30 and December 3, teams may try and re-sign their re-entry draft players, or they can do sign-and-trades with these players, similar to the NBA.  However, once December 3 arrives, the lists are locked in and released to the players’ union and clubs.

Still with me?  Because here is gets fun.

On December 8, MLS has Stage 1 of the Re-Entry Draft.  All of the 23/3, 25/4, and 30/8 players who were not re-signed are eligible to be selected by another team, but that team must pay a certain salary to the selected players (for example, a drafted 30/8 player is required to get at least 105% of their 2010 salary).  The selection is by record, with the expansion teams picking last, so D.C. United has the privilege of selecting the first re-entry player (possibly Jimmy Conrad).  A team cannot select its own player, and the draft continues until no team wants to make a selection.  All is not lost for the undrafted players however.  Between December 9 and 13, negotiations can resume.  Teams can sign their players or do sign-and-trades.  On December 15, a second draft is held for the unsigned players until again no team remains wanting to make a selection.

What does this all mean?  Between the re-entry draft and expansion draft, there will be, relatively speaking, a lot of player movement in MLS this offseason.

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