Is Branch more screwed than he and his agent think?

The standard line in the media is that if Branch reports by Week 10, he gets credit for an Accrued Season and becomes a free agent. However, a commenter at FootballOutsiders found the following text in the 1998 CBA. Yes, it’s the 1998 CBA, but the 2006 Extension Terms Sheet (also available via the NFLPA) doesn’t address the calculation of Accrued Seasons, so presumably the rules haven’t changed. Section (a) is the one the media (and Branch and his agent) talk about. But everyone seems to ignore (b), even though (b) seems to directly apply to Branch.

Here’s hoping that (b) really does apply and that Branch has almost no leverage at all.

Section 1. Accrued Seasons Calculation:

(a) For the purposes of calculating Accrued Seasons under this Agreement, a player shall receive one Accrued Season for each season during which he was on, or should have been on, full pay status for a total of six or more regular season games, but which, irrespective of the player’s pay status, shall not include games for which the player was on: (i) the Exempt Commissioner Permission List, (ii) the Reserve PUP List as a result of a nonfootball injury, or (iii) a Club’s Practice or Development Squad.

(b) For the purposes of calculating Accrued Seasons under this Agreement, for any League Year during the term of this Agreement beginning with the 1993 League Year, a player shall not receive an Accrued Season for any League Year in which the player is under contract to a Club and in which he failed to report to such Club at least thirty days prior to the first regular season game of that season, or in which the player thereafter failed to perform his contract services for the Club for a material period of time, unless he demonstrates to the Impartial Arbitrator extreme personal hardship causing such failure to report or perform, such as severe illness or death in the family. The determination of the Impartial Arbitrator shall be made within thirty days of the application by the player, and shall be based upon all information relating to such hardship submitted by such date. The determination of the Impartial Arbitrator shall be final and binding upon all parties.

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