The NFL Players Association is monitoring a little-known "85-percent rule" after two minor trades this week involving rookie players were made even as confusion reigned over the rule's application.
Under the rule, which is only applicable in an uncapped year, any drafted rookie who is cut by his team has 85 percent of the $310,000 first-year minimum salary reallocated to rookies who do make the club.
The rule came under scrutiny when the Redskins and Rams exchanged rookie players in separate transactions earlier this week. The Washington Redskins traded rookie tight end/fullback Dennis Morris to the St. Louis Rams for a future conditional draft pick; the Redskins then acquired rookie linebacker Hall Davis, also for a conditional draft pick.
Davis was cut by the Redskins after he practiced just once, on Tuesday. The Rams are expected to release Morris when they make their final roster cuts this week from 75 to 53.
Davis and Morris each were sixth-round draft choices. Instead of being guaranteed 85 percent of the first-year minimum if they were released by the drafting club, as some team executives believed, the $272,000 savings must be reallocated for each player to rookies on the roster, based on playing time, according to the collective bargaining agreement.
"It's true that we're monitoring it but we wouldn't do anything until the end of the year when we know the proportion that is either paid out or not paid out," Richard Berthelsen of the NFLPA said.
One union source said that even while the amount of money is minimal, the appearance of circumvention or collusion will not go unchecked.
The 85-percent rule has been in the CBA since 1993 but this is the first year it has been triggered because there is no salary cap in 2010.
CBA Article XVII, Section 4 states, "In League Years for which no Salary Cap is in effect, 85% of any amount contracted by a team to be paid from the Team's Rookie Allocation to a Rookie, but not actually paid by the Team to that player, either as a rookie, or as a re-signed first-year player or practice squad player, which amount was not paid because that player was released, will be distributed to all rookies on such Team promptly after the end of the season on a pro rata basis based upon the number of downs played."
There are other quirks in the rule that apply to drafted rookies who are cut and re-signed to the practice squad by their original team.
A unique twist is that some of the highest-paid rookies will actually benefit, such as the Rams' top draft pick, Sam Bradford. He would qualify for a proportion of any reallocated money based on playing time, though obviously such a bonus would pale in comparison to Bradford's rookie contract that will pay him $50 million in guaranteed money.
One other rookie trade involving sixth-round draft picks between the Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles also fell under scrutiny -- Arizona dealt rookie cornerback Jorrick Calvin for rookie fullback Charles Scott.
The Cardinals did lose fullback Nehemiah Broughton for the season in Saturday night's preseason game.
"Unless there's some hidden provision I don't know about, then these teams may not understand the rule itself but I'm sure they will now," Berthelsen said. "Like I said, that's not something we would be able to verify until after the season."
Chris Mortensen is ESPN's senior NFL analyst.