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Premier Lacrosse League Free Agency Primer

After the Championship Series, we are officially be entering the era of Premier Lacrosse League free agency. Announced prior to the 2022 season, the new league structure allows players to negotiate with their current team, and other teams in the league, to arrive at a deal for up to four years in length. Teams will have an annual salary cap of $735,000, of which they have to spend at least 98%. Player contracts will be a minimum of $25,000. Given that, the math suggests that coaches have in the neighborhood of $100,000 to spend above the minimum to secure players. It’s not a lot of room to maneuver, and with coaches still serving as GMs, it won’t be easy to keep their rosters together for long stretches. In about a week, free agency will open.

On the PLL site, and taken from team and league announcements about contract length for players that were signed this past offseason, as nearly the entire league signed to new deals, it’s possible now to take a look at who each club might need to be prepared to lose, and how they may need to start allocating funds in order to keep their roster intact. Some players still have holdout designations or other roster designations that'll complicate this, but for the sake of being thorough I included everyone. For some teams, their top players are already signed beyond this year and they’ll have to make just a few decisions. For others, they stand to potentially lose stars, or face the choice between which end of the field they try and keep together.

On top of that, rookies will join each team following the draft next year. The top four picks have salaries above the league minimum, with first overall getting $30,000, then $28,500, then $27,000, then $26,000 in that order, and then remaining draft picks get their $25,000 deal. All college draft picks get a three year contract, and those deals began with the 2022 draft. So everyone drafted stays with their team through the 2024 season (unless they’re released).

Players do still need to be part of the 19 man roster to get a full game check, and get reduced pay for being on the 21 and 25 man roster every week. Players can also earn “marketing money”, which is from coaching at camps, clinics, and other services, and that doesn’t count against the cap. Back in the MLL days, clubs often used this as a bit of a salary cap loophole, since the negotiated pay is directly with the league, not at the club level.

Let’s go team by team to see who’s going free agent after 2022, and just how I’d approach the offseason if I was in the GM seat for each club. As we do this, I break out the players into three tiers. First, there are priority signings. These are the guys the team needs to be sure don’t get signed away by another club. Next, there’s on the edge, which are players you’ll have to make a tough decision about, or there may not be enough money for them should another club come up with a sizable offer. Third, the players who teams can decide to let go should other teams bid for them, or cut them to make room for new players. That doesn’t mean the third tier players go to the player pool since they can help other clubs, but that they just might not be able to crack the 25 man on their club next year.

Archers Deals Expiring after 2022:

Dominique Alexander, Connor Fields, Adam Ghitelman, Tyrell Hamer Jackson, Latrell Harris, Marcus Holman, Tre Leclaire, Will Manny, Matt McMahon, Mark McNeill, Jeff Trainor

Archers have some choices to make. And they already started making some moves, namely by signing Jared Conners. The two most notable names on here are Will Manny and Marcus Holman, cornerstones of this attack since year one. Holman has a legit claim to the best shooter in the world crown, going to battle with Mac O’Keefe for best lefty attackman on the market. Also of note is that the entire defensive midfield group are on deals that run through the 2022 season. Alexander, McNeill, Harris, can you keep them all? Scott Ratliff retired after a storied career, so that makes things a little easier as he would have been a free agent. The Archers also extended Jared Conners, so he avoids free agency and the LSM spot is locked up. Still, It’ll be nigh impossible given how much space over the minimum is available and how far that money has to go. Down low, keeping Matt McMahon should be a priority. He’s an important vocal piece and organizer of that unit, and not easily replaced. The Archers have also been a team that, on paper, looks like a championship contender every year. But they keep coming up short. With so many players potentially on the move, realistically at least a few of the above listed names will be on other teams or in the player pool next year, Archers window for a title with a team that looks like it has the first four seasons may be closing. Ghitelman being on the edge only happens because of the need to keep at least some of the attack and defensive midfield. With Brett Dobson drafted a year ago, it’s possible that if the cap space gets tight quickly, Ghitelman may be someone who is let walk to another team with more space for a goalie, unless he signs back for the minimum or dare I say, retires. Connor Fields and Tre Leclaire both fall into that category as well, without the retirement part. At SSDM, Mark McNeill could be the odd man out. With so many players to sign and so much demand league wide for SSDMs, it’s tough to imagine the Archers keeping the entire unit together. Jeff Trainor is a name to watch, as his performance in the Championship Series could really increase his value in a fairly shallow free agent midfield class. He can play on wings, and is decent on the defensive end, and the more things you can do at a pro level, the better chances you have of a team giving you a spot. At the PLL Championship Series, Coach Bates said some discussions with players have already begun, but that as an organizational, they’ll have to make some tough decisions.

If I’m the GM:

Priority signings: Manny, Holman, Alexander, Harris, McMahon On the edge: Leclaire, Ghitelman, Trainor, Fields Good luck with your next team: McNeill, Hamer Jackson Target from other teams: Cade Van Raaphorst, Connor Farrell

Atlas Deals expiring after 2022:

Daniel Bucaro, Jake Carraway, John Crawley, Peter Dearth, Tucker Durkin, Kyle Pless, Cade Van Raaphorst

The Atlas have most of their critical pieces signed beyond the end of this year, and own the Cannons first pick next season, which happens to be first overall. That pick feasibly can be used to address any significant player loss to free agency. This club is as poised for long term success as anyone in the league. With so much of the core signed for past 2022, the Bulls can really focus on where they want to keep either veteran leadership or key role players from the group above. Durkin is getting up there in years, and if he decides to play beyond this season, it’s likely he continues to play the third defender, vocal leader of the defense role, similar to what Brodie Merrill has transitioned into for Cannons. Cade Van Raaphorst is solidly the best the defender on the team, one of the best help defenders in the league, a transition threat, and can play wings in a pinch. He’s the most critical player for the club to sign back. Dearth is another defensive piece I’d want to be sure to sign back. Quality SSDM play is incredibly valuable because it’s so hard to replace. If you find a good one, hold onto them. John Crawley is as smart an offensive player as you can find in the PLL, and while he won’t make the highlight plays of some other guys on the Atlas offense, you can bet you notice it when he’s gone. The “coach on the field” type players are rare, and incredibly valuable while this team of young stars gains experience. Carraway suddenly being not a lineup staple isn’t doing his pending free agency any favors. There aren’t many teams out there that have openings at attack, so he’ll have to quickly get comfortable running out of the box. If he does, he can play for anyone. Carraway did a lot to increase his value at the Championship Series, showing off both range and high IQ offensive play. With a new coach and GM coming in, or potentially Steven Brooks getting the job, he may see more time on the field, or at a minimum increased his value elsewhere. With the offensive depth on the Atlas, they have the luxury of potentially simply deciding to let Bucaro and Carraway leave in free agency and signing other players back, or making larger offers to make sure players like Van Raaphorst remain with the club.

If I’m the GM:

Priority signings: Crawley, Dearth, Van Raaphorst On the edge: Carraway, Bucaro, Durkin Good luck with your next team: Pless Target from Other Clubs: Matt McMahon, Finn Sullivan

Cannons expiring deals:

Tim Edwards, Nick Marrocco, Brodie Merrill, Ryan Tierney

The Cannons, like the Atlas, have most of the critical pieces locked up past 2022. There’s only a handful of names they’ll have to address for next year. The question for the Cannons is, to quote the classic film Spaceballs, when will then be now? Brodie Merrill is on the list and if he decides to keep playing, they’ll have to make a choice about whether or not to bring back their 40 year old captain who’s the voice of their defense. The day then becomes now, and you take Brodie Merrill out of your lineup, you better be sure your defense is ready to stand on its own and be organized. Ryan Tierney was a trade acquisition who’s been fine in his time with the Cannons, and as a young player on a team that’s starting to skew young with major contributions from players under 25 in several spots, he is worth keeping around as what may ultimately be an affordable but quality offensive piece. Tim Edwards was on the PUP list for a sizable chunk of the year year. With Zach Goodrich on the roster as one of the best in the league, and the emergence of Bubba Fairman as a reliable two way midfielder, it could be time to let Edwards go. Really, it’s hard to say what happens here, because there’s a new shot caller for the Cannons. Brian Holman takes over as Head Coach and GM, and his vision likely takes this team in a new direction. The Kavanagh acquisition happened before he was announced, but multiple players were sent to the player pool after he came on, signalling the start of some roster overhaul. As of this writing, the Cannons only have 20 players on the roster, and two draft picks. It’ll be a busy offseason in free agency to get this rebuild underway. Goalie in particular is interesting, as Nick Marrocco and Sean Quirk have been joined at the hip for years. Marrocco is free agent, and Colin Kirst was just drafted. That could be a competition come summer, but I’d still sign Marrocco back.

If I’m the GM:

Priority signings: Marrocco, Tierney On the edge: Merrill Good luck with your next team: Edwards Target from Other Clubs: Challen Rogers, Myles Jones, Jordan Macintosh

Chaos Deals expiring deals:

Max Adler, Wes Berg, Tanner Cook, CJ Costabile, Kevin Crowley, Curtis Dickson, Chase Fraser, Kyle Jackson, Austin Kaut, Tommy Kelly, Ian Mackay, Jarrod Neumann, Mac O’Keefe, Jerry Ragonese, Matt Rees, Pat Resch, Joe Resitarits, Challen Rogers, Ryan Smith

That’s a big list. Biggest in the league. Crowley is on medical holdout and is a likely candidate to head back to the player pool, since his signing was primarily as a depth add for when the Chaos went without their Bandits players. Curtis Dickson is on the holdout list as well, and hasn’t played since the bubble season. He’s a spectacular player, but only when he actual plays. Joe Resitarits is also on holdout, and likely won’t be back for the same reasons as Crowley. The other consideration here is Johnny Surdick, who is unavailable due to military service this year. That could also be the case going forward, as Surdick was never announced as having signed a new deal with the Chaos. He’d also likely have to be signed should he be available. When evaluating who to bring back, it’s also worth wondering who will really get signed elsewhere. The Chaos specifically target these players with strong indoor experience and skills, it’s part of the way they run their offense. Unless other teams in the league decide to copy their approach, they have to know that signing some players away means an adjustment to a different offense that may leave them a little less comfortable or productive. Some players have emerged as key pieces who make the roster every week, like Ryan Smith and Kyle Jackson, and you can expect that they get signed back. Ian Mackay offers so much versatility since he can play pole or shorty, and shorty on either end. Having him on the roster fills so many spots, I’d keep him around to maintain flexibility. Jarrod Neumann should be a priority signing as well, and Mac O’Keefe is a critical part of left side of the Chaos offense. An interesting question for them will be Challen Rogers, who has been solid in his time with Chaos. The thing is, that time is limited. This is his first PLL season, spending other years in the player pool or on holdout. If I can be sure Rogers will play every week, I’d be much more eager to sign him back. Kaut has the, dare I say it, boring job of being Blaze Riorden’s backup, so really his retention is about locker room and culture fit. The same is really true of anyone on the Chaos “on the edge” list. Next to Soudan, Towers is probably the coach who is most likely to put player personality even ahead of skillset when roster building. There are certain types of players that Towers wants in his locker room, and I bet if you asked him, he’d tell you he’d take a less skilled player that’s the perfect culture fit for his roster. I’ve heard before that a key part of the Chaos culture is a, “No Assholes Policy”, and it’s basically zero tolerance. At the core, that’s really the argument to sign back everyone who expires this year, which makes it all that much more difficult. Ultimately, what I’d call the “core” of the Chaos is locked up. Byrne, Dhane Smith, Rowlett, and Blaze are all on deals through 2024. If those guys are on your team, you’re a contender. Keep as much as you can after that is gravy.

If I’m the GM:

Priority signing: Adler, Berg, Fraser, Neumann, O’Keefe, Smith, Mackay, Jackson, Resch On the edge: Kaut, Kelly, Cook, Costabile, Rogers Good luck with your next team: Crowley, Dickson, Ragonese, Rees, Resitarits Target from Other Clubs: Anyone with a Canadian passport

Chrome Deals expiring deals:

Ryan Beville, Connor Farrell, Kyle Gallagher, Nick Grill, Jesse King, Jordan Macintosh, Jackson Morrill, John Ranagan, Eli Salama, Greg Weyl, Mike Manley

Beville, Gallagher, King, and Weyl are all Holdout List players. That shrinks the list considerably. King is an offensive weapon, but his availability in a given summer is tough to nail down. At this point in the life of the PLL, the talent pool is so deep that using roster spots on your 25 man for players who won’t be available for you or will just sit on the holdout list doesn’t make sense. Given just how good the midfield has been this year, particularly at SSDM, I think it’s probably safe to let Beville go. Messenger was a great add for the Chrome, and joins Ryan Terefenko to form one of the best two-way middie pairings in the league. Farrell has earned a solid new deal in the last year, and should be rewarded by someone who needs a faceoff specialist, Chrome will do well to make it a priority to keep him, especially with no guarantee that Gallagher is available next year. The caveat to that is, the draft class is deep at the faceoff spot. If the Chrome take a liking to one of the many options available, they may use the money elsewhere. It would be bold, as faceoff is one of the tougher spots to find a consistently productive player, but this is the draft class to do it. Mike Manley should be kept for another year if the Chrome can manage it, as players at his caliber (Manley was at DPOY level this year) are difficult to replace. Manley came off IR just before the season, presumably he then signed a new deal at least through this year. The edge guys here are an aging John Ranagan, who has been in and out of the 19 man roster as the Chrome lean more and more on younger players. Nick Grill was acquired in the Guterding deal and is fine, but if the PLL has “cap casualties”, he could be one. Weyl is on holdout, if he’s available for certain next year, I think leads to a decision between keeping either Grill or Weyl. Jackson Morrill has been a points leader for this club in the past, and has taken a bit of a backseat as the Molloy/Nichtern/Wisnauskas attack line has been driving the offense. If Nichtern isn’t available beyond this year due to military service commitments, then keeping Morrill becomes a much higher priority. Morrill’s play at the Championship Series should earn him a spot back, particular with the availability of Nichtern uncertain. Alex Smith’s play at the Championship Series may also have made the decision around a player like Ranagan a bit more complicated.

If I'm the GM:

Priority signing: Farrell, Macintosh, Manley, Morrill, Salama On the Edge: Ranagan, Grill, Weyl Good luck with your next team: Beville, Gallagher, King Target from Other Clubs: Wes Berg

Redwoods expiring deals:

Hugh Crance, Isaiah Davis Allen, Eddy Glazener, Kyle Hartzell, Myles Jones, Jack Kelly, Matt Landis, Ryan Lee, Jack Near, John Sexton, Drew Simoneau, Finn Sullivan

Woods are going to be in a tough spot, since almost everyone on that list will have assuredly have multiple other teams very interested in their services. It could be a situation where the Redwoods have to decide which side of the ball they want prioritize. Glazener, Sexton, and IDA will be in demand. Myles could be the top free agent at his position this offseason. The Woods traded Matt Kavanagh to the Cannons for two rookies, possibly setting up some free space to retain some of these other free agents. Kavanagh felt like a bit of a sell low, but those are decisions you have to make in pro sports. I think in an offseason where the Redwoods tinker with the offense a bit following their tough first half, and some guys may be shipped out, there could be changes driven by new OC John Grant Jr and the way he wants use the weapons the Woods have. This offseason Kelly should become a priority signing. His road back to the field is incredible, and I’d say he firmly has the Redwoods netminder job for now. Landis military commitments mean his availability for any future pro lacrosse seasons are up in the air. Because of the fact that so many of these free agents are top tier players, the “on the edge” list is tough to swallow. Once there is a clearler understanding how how the holdout list and other roster designations interact with free agent status, we'll know more about Landis' future. Sullivan is excellent, but as the now fifth pole, it’s tough to prioritize signing him back. He played well in an increased role after the Glazener injury, and made a strong case to return, but once again, this is a numbers game. Ryan Lee’s injury history works against him, even though he’s the type of player that I think can help the offense. If you want to call Myles a priority, you need to bump someone else from that list down, and I’m not sure who the right choice is. Pat Harbeson retired, making the need to bring back Jack Near that much greater. Near is a top tier SSDM, but losing depth behind him means his value goes up. With Kavanagh traded and Harbeson retired, it frees up some money to bring a veteran like Hartzell from the guys you might let walk into the group you’d bring back, or try and make IDA or Sullivan a priority signing. Off the year he just had, and knowing he might command some big money, I’m on the edge of letting Myles go and using what I’d spend on him to bring back possibly multiple other players.

If I’m the GM:

Priority signing: Glazener, Sexton, Kelly, Near On the Edge: Jones, IDA, Sullivan, Lee Good luck with your next team: Hartzell, Simoneau, Crance Targets from Other Clubs: Jake Carraway

Waterdogs expiring deals:

Matt Hossack, Charlie Kitchen, Michael Kraus, Kieran McArdle, Christian Scarpello, Dillon Ward, Matt Whitcher

Waterdogs keep most of the core together. Of this list, there are only a few players I’d consider must signs. Obviously Dillon Ward should be the top of the list as the starting goalie and one of the best in the world. You run the risk of him being unavailable due to NLL commitments, depending on how and if that overlap happens again, but he’s borderline irreplaceable. After Ward, McArdle is the guy that needs to come back. If Michael Sowers misses time with injury, as he has his first two years, McArdle is the attackman this team needs to be dodging threat. McArdle elevated his play last year to MVP Finalist level. Any proven starter at attack in the PLL of that caliber is basically an offensive priority by definition. After that, it’s sort of case by case. If you think he’ll be available and come off the holdout list Michael Kraus is a top level talent that can run out of the box or play attack. Charlie Kitchen really hasn’t made a splash with the Waterdogs this year after joining them in the offseason, but that could change next year. With Ryan Brown’s retirement, the Waterdogs need to replace and elite shooter and finisher. Kitchen should have a chance at that job. I think of the SSDM crew of Christian Scarpello and Matt Whitcher both return. Steven DeNapoli would have been a free agent and complicated this a bit, but his retirement makes it a fairly easy call to keep the other two SSDMs on the team. Really, you need to make sure you keep Ward and McArdle in purple, and after that, everyone you’re able to sign back is icing on the cake. When Andy Copelan built this team, he built it for multiyear success. Replacing the leadership of guys like DeNapoli and Brown is hard, but with Currier, Ward, and McArdle, this team will basically run back a title winning roster.

Priority signings: Ward, McArdle On the edge: Kraus, Whitcher, Kitchen, Scarpello Good Luck with your next team: Hossack Target from Other Clubs: Pat Resch

Whipsnakes expiring deals:

Jake Bernhardt, Jay Carlson, Mike Chanenchuk, Bryan Cole, Justin Guterding

Really, the Whipsnakes aren’t looking at losing a ton in terms of numbers, but they do have very difficult decisions to make. The Whips avoided free agency with one player already, signing Brian Phipps to an extension. Despite how competitive goalie is, Phipps would have had other offers, as he’s already proven himself a quality starter and has filled in well for Kyle Bernlohr in the past. Jay Carlson is very difficult to replace, since smart off ball players at his level are nearly non-existent. The addition of players like Jackson Reid and Keegan Khan offer some redundancy there, but I still consider Carlson to be the gold standard. Since acquiring Guterding, he’s been fine for the Whips. Not great, not bad, just fine. When he played at attack in place of Zed, he was productive and dangerous. He showed in his time with Chrome he can be a top tier dodging and scoring attackman. As something of a roleplayer for the Whipsnakes, the question of where Guterding plays next year will be one of the biggest of the offseason, since he’s now shown he can do basically anything the offense needs. Teams in need or a dodging threat will be interested, or someone to fun out of the box, or play off ball, and so forth. The Whipsnakes will need to decide what they want Guterding to be for them after this year. If that’s a role player out of the box making the minimum, vs maybe another team who wants him to play as a dodging attackman for more than the minimum, Guterding could leave, but the Whipsnakes might be ok with that. That line of thinking could extend to Chanenchuk, Bernhardt, and Cole. Chanenchuk and Bernhardt are two of the older players on the team. Chanenchuk can still hit from two, but his numbers have been in a slow decline over the last few years. Bernhardt is getting up in years, and his coaching career is on right rise as the new OC at Maryland; that may become a priority. First round pick Roman Puglise could step into the role that Bernhardt has played in recent years, he was very impressive at the Championship Series, and the experience was invaluable for him. This team will still belong to Matt Rambo, Zed Williams, and a loaded defense after this offseason, the Whips can prioritize the players they think best keep that working.

If I’m the GM:

Priority Signings: Jay Carlson On the edge: Guterding, Chanenchuk, Bernhardt, Cole Good luck with your next team: Basically nobody? How do the Whips keep getting away with this. Target from Other Clubs: Jack Near


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