Jets News

NFL Free Agency: A Brief History, “Plan B”

By Alan Schechter

Freeman McNeil, among others, paved the way for players to seek out the highes bidder in free agency

March 12th is rapidly approaching, just a few days away. With that comes the free-for-all that is the NFL free agency period. Right at 3 PM on Tuesday, coaches and GMs will be scouring the country with contracts in hand and pens ready to sign players. Who will go where? We will find out soon enough.

But, as the NFL looks ahead, tonight we are going to look back. Some of our younger readers might not be aware that the NFL went a long time without having the free agency free-for-all that we have now. There was a moderate, limiting form of free agency, that players had to go to court in order to beat. Let’s take a walk back through history.

Coming out of the player’s strike in 1987, one of the biggest issues was free agency. What the NFL did was grant a small form of free agency called “Plan B Free Agency“.  What this program served to do was be a “right of first refusal” type of policy.  Under Plan B, teams were allowed to hold the rights to 37 of their own players.  If those players wanted to go sign somewhere else, their current team had to have first crack at signing them.   Anyone else could be a straight free agent.

Sounds more like slavery than free agency for the 37 players, don’t you think?  I mean, if you were lucky enough to not be one of those 37 you were all set, but if you were one of them, you had a helluva system to fight.

In 1992, a group of players decided to fight.

Our at the time, very own Freeman McNeil led a group of eight players in a federal lawsuit against the league, alleging that the “Plan B” system was against anti-trade laws.   On September 10, 1992 the federal court agreed with the players, and found in their favor nn 3 out of 4 counts of the lawsuit, awarding damages to the players.

Not to Freeman McNeil.  For some reason, he wasn’t awarded damages.  I guess being a Jet always had and always will have its setbacks.

But the greater importance of the case was the fact that it paved the way for current free agency.  The court required the league to come up with less restrictive rules, and we had standard free agency.

As the next free agency period approaches, the players have a lot to be thankful for from 20 years ago.