Prior to the 2009 season the NFL owners decided unanimously to opt out of the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) following the 2009 season. There are myriad reasons why the owners opted out; economic downturn, a poor business model for smaller market teams, but the most widely attributed reason is the lack of a rookie pay scale, which most likely would be implemented prior to the 2011 season. This is the reason you may see an inordinate amount of juniors like Jimmy Clausen, Jake Locker and Sam Bradford leave for the 2010 draft, rather than wait until 2011.
I've noticed over the past couple of months there seems to be a lot of misinformation in regards to what will happen in the 2010 offseason with the lack of a salary cap. The vast amount of information floating around is completely incorrect, so before we get too far into the season I thought it prudent to write about what an uncapped season actually means, and hopefully dispel a few incorrect myths and assumptions.
Myth One: An uncapped season means every player in the NFL becomes an unrestricted free agent.
FALSE: Though the lack of a salary cap means free agents can be offered any amount of money by a team, it does not make all prior contracts null and void. I have heard claims such as:
Again, they are both under contract, so don't fear.
Myth Two: A championship caliber team like New England or Pittsburgh will sign every primo free agent who wants a championship to a 1 year deal and run away with the 2010 season.
FALSE: A failsafe was included for a capless season. Essentially the 8 playoff teams are unable to sign any more free agents than they lost. For example, if the Steelers lose 3 unrestricted free agents, they are only allowed to sign 3 free agents to replace those players. There is no restriction on non-playoff teams (we're looking at you Dan Snyder).
FALSE: This is one element to the lack of a CBA that plays in our favor. For 2010 only each team will be allowed to apply the franchise tag to three players, rather than the typical one. Hence, we can franchise both Davis and Peppers if the team so chooses and franchise a third player (possibly Tyler Brayton).
What are the risks?
By no means do I want people to assume it is all wine and roses for a year without a CBA. There are numerous risks with former union Chief Gene Upshaw always pushing a ‘slippery slope' argument. Essentially, his platform was that once players get a taste of uncapped free agency it will be impossible to make them conform to numbers again, and the player's union won't ratify a new CBA.
This most likely was a strong arm tactic to scare owners into continuing the CBA. Therefore giving 60% of a team's revenue to players and retaining no rookie pay scale. There was an uncapped season in 1993 and the world didn't end.
The second and most interesting prospect is this one: It takes a great deal of suspension of disbelief, and is extremely unlikely so just go with me on this one.
A salary cap isn't just a ceiling on how much a team can spend, but also a basement. There are numerous teams in the league whose games are blacked out and are in debt (Jacksonville, Oakland) to name a couple. Without a minimum these teams need to pay their players imagine if these teams released their entire rosters, all 53 players. It is likely over 90% of them would be signed by some team or another, therefore voiding the remaining years on their deals and requiring the teams to only cover their guaranteed portions.
This seems obscene, but for a team tens of millions in the hole it could be very, very enticing to salt the earth, field a team of scrubs for a 10th of what their spending now and recoup a lot of money via the NFL's revenue sharing system. Of course, it's extremely unlikely a team will release an entire roster, but you could see some big names with bad contracts get released so a team can reload for the 2010 free agency (JaMarcus Russell anyone?).
Lastly, the rules put in place by the owners increased the number of years a player needs to be in the league before becoming eligible for free agency from 4-6 for the 2010 offseason. This was to ensure teams weren't robbed of their young talent solely because they didn't have the money to make a comparable offer to their free agents.
LittleKing wrote a great article back in April highlighting which Carolina Panthers would be subject to free agency following the 2009 season. You can find it here.
If you have a questions regarding the uncapped 2010 season please, feel free to leave it in the comments. I think it's important we go in to the offseason a more educated fan base on the issue so when arguments regarding free agents and draft picks come up we're all up to snuff on the basics before getting specific.