Sunday, June 5, 2016

Dropping in on MLS Free Agency

One of the bigger notes from last year's new MLS Collective Bargaining Agreement was that MLS would try it's hand at "free agency" for the first time. It was seen as a sort of victory for the players, but one they knew they had to improve.

Looking at it now, it's a win for the league. Only 27 players met the strict qualifiers that allowed them to become a free agent last year. For a refresher, here they are:

- Out of contract
- Are at least 28 years old
- Have a minimum of eight years of service in MLS

Don't you like how they call it "years of service?" Anyhow, let's dig into how things have played out.

1. Twenty-Seven Players. That means only about 5% of all MLS players qualified for free agency under these rules. Professional sports in the US is heavy handed in this arena, but 27 out of 550-600 is setting a new standard. Last year the NBA, for example, had 196 Free Agents out of 446 total players under contract and the NFL had 525 out of about 1600 on rosters last year.

2. The 27 qualifying players made a total of about $4.5 million in 2015. After going through free agency MLS wiped $1.8 million off their books, down to $2.7 in 2016.

3. Just one player ended up going to another team for a higher salary. Justin Mapp. He went from Montreal at $199k to Sporting KC for $239k. The only other player to go up stayed with their own team (Ricardo Clark, Houston, +$19k).

4. Nine of the 27 are no longer playing professionally and two went to the NASL.

5. The still active players whose salaries tumbled the most are Mike Magee (-$218k), Jeff Larentowicz (-$96k) and Corey Ashe (-$85k).

6. Table:

Justin MappMontreal Impact$199,225Sporting KC$239,070$39,8452%
Ricardo ClarkHouston Dynamo$337,750Houston Dynamo$356,700$18,95097%
Chad BarrettSeattle Sounders$100,000San Jose$95,500-$4,50021%
Michael HarringtonColorado Rapids$130,000Chicago$125,000-$5,00057%
Alan GordonLA Galaxy$175,000LA Galaxy$170,000-$5,0006%
Paulo NagamuraSporting Kansas City$230,000Sporting Kansas City$225,000-$5,00013%
Nathan SturgisHouston Dynamo$75,375Seattle$62,508-$12,867
Drew MoorColorado Rapids$270,500Toronto FC$250,000-$20,50092%
Bobby BurlingColorado Rapids$140,000Colorado Rapids$116,000-$24,00069%
Kyle ReynishNew York Red Bulls$90,317New York Red Bulls$62,500-$27,817
Brian CarrollPhiladelphia Union$150,000Philadelphia Union$120,000-$30,00080%
Ned GrabavoyNew York City FC$215,000Portland$150,000-$65,00021%
Nick LaBroccaColorado Rapids$180,000Chicago$110,000-$70,00021%
Conor CaseyPhiladelphia Union$180,000Columbus$105,000-$75,0001%
Corey AsheOrlando City SC$189,750Columbus$105,500-$84,25027%
Jeff LarentowiczChicago Fire$271,000Los Angeles$175,000-$96,00018%
Mike MageeChicago Fire$467,500Los Angeles$250,000-$217,50079%
Kenny CooperMontreal Impact$285,625Unattached$ -
Jon BuschChicago Fire$90,000Indy Eleven$ -
Andrew WeberPortland Timbers$60,000?$ -
Stephen KeelFC Dallas$60,000Unattached$ -
Khari StephensonSan Jose Earthquakes$71,646Unattached$ -
Ty HardenChicago Fire$75,078Unattached$ -
Eric AvilaOrlando City SC$77,000Tampa Bay Rowdies$ -
James RileyColorado Rapids$83,750Unattached$ -
Edson BuddleLA Galaxy$106,250Unattached$ -
Troy PerkinsSeattle Sounders$136,663Coach (Sounders Academy)$ -

The impression we got after the latest CBA was finished was that this was merely a first step and that the union gave up a bit to obtain it. While it's hard to draw any major conclusions after year one, you can say that this doesn't appear to be any better or worse than players falling to one re-entry draft or another.

For this to work in a meaningful way for players within the current structure of MLS (and outside of blowing up the Player's Union) is to reduce the "years of service" gateway. Your talking about a small group, even if MLS was the only soccer league on the planet, let alone in the US. It puts most players well past their career peak earning time.

There are a good couple stories to tell in Drew Moor in Toronto and Mike Magee back in LA. Maybe they will be back up and in demand next year (or when their deal is up). Both are over 31 but can still be effective in MLS. Hell, after eight years, they practically are MLS.

We'll see where this goes next year.

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