One of the consolations MLS players won in their new Collective Bargaining Agreement was some level of increased movement. They didn't get free agency, or really anything much like it, but they were able to break what amounted to MLS teams owning a player's league rights for perpetuity.
That relative level of freedom comes mainly in the form of the Re-Entry drafts. The first of those drafts will be held on Friday. While the exact list of players entered in it won't be released until just before, we do know the basic rules.
Here's the official MLS language explaining who's eligible:
1. Players who are at least 23 years old and have a minimum of three years experience in MLS whose options were not exercised by their clubs (available at option salary for 2011).
2. Players who are at least 25 years old with a minimum of four years of MLS experience who are out of contract and whose club does not wish to re-sign them at their previous salary (available at 2010 salary).
3. Players who are at least 30 years old with a minimum of eight years of MLS experience who are out of contract and whose club does not wish to re-sign them (available for at least 105% of their 2010 salary).
In less abstract terms, if a team wants to pay a player who is under contract with at least three years of MLS experience less than they are due to make next year, that player can generally enter the Re-Entry Draft with the hope that some other team is willing to honor his contract.
Players who are out of contract and are at least 25 years old and have four years of experience can also go into the Re-Entry draft and be paid the same amount they made last year. Players that are at least 30 with eight years of MLS experience in the same situation would be due a 5 percent pay raise.
These are different than the players who were waived by their teams last week - like Collins John, late of the Chicago Fire, or Mista, the former Toronto FC Designated Player. Rather, this draft is reserved for players whose rights are still controlled by their current team.
This stage of the draft is likely to be full of somewhat recognizable names who are due significant pay raises, but whose performance or playing time may be on the decline. Sounders center back Tyrone Marshall and Sporting Kansas City forward Josh Wolff have both been revealed as players who are likely to enter.
In years past, players that were unwilling to take a pay cut had limited options as teams could just hold their rights.
"This is one of the major changes compared to previous years. In previous years, if the player’s existing team offered him a lower salary, the player didn’t have many options. Now the players have more leverage in that negotiating process," said Todd Durbin, MLS Executive Vice President of Player Relations and Competition.
Players who go unclaimed in this draft, but still can't come to a contract agreement with their current teams, can then choose to enter the second Re-Entry Draft on Dec. 15. During that draft, the picking teams are free to negotiate new deals with the players. If the player and team still can't come to a contract agreement, that player can seek other offers but the drafting team will retain the right of first refusal.