I'm sure everyone has heard by now that the owners have voted unanimously to opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement. This was widely expected because the owners feel like they gave up too much in this most recent labor deal. There's plenty of stuff that you can read about what this means or could mean, but let me try and simplify it.
The 2008 season will remain unchanged. The 2009 season will also go on without any issues, with each team operating under a $123 million salary cap (roughly). The complications come in when the 2010 season rolls around. As it stands now, that would be an "uncapped" season, meaning there would be no set salary cap for teams to operate under. Here are some of the things you need to know if 2010 is played as an uncapped year:
- A player would need 6 years of NFL service before becoming an unrestricted free agent. Currently, a player only needs 4 years of service to become an UFA. What this means is that there would be many fewer free agents in the free agency pool following the '09 season if there is no new CBA reached between the owners and players. For example. Braylon Edwards would be completing his 5th NFL season in 2009. Under the old CBA, he would then be a free agent in 2010. But with the owners opting out, if no new CBA is reached and 2010 is "uncapped," then Edwards would not be a free agent because he doesn't have 6 years of NFL service under his belt. [Editor's Note by Matty I] PFT explains that, despite being reported by NFL.com, ESPN, NY Daily News, SI.com, and the Bears' official site, that a player would actually need just 5 years of NFL service - not 6 - to be an UFA in 2010 if no new CBA is reached and we do have an "uncapped" season. [end note]
- Currently, an NFL team can use the franchise tag and transition tag to restrict their own free agents from hitting free agency. If 2010 is an "uncapped" year, then each team would be allowed to use another transition tag. That means that could tag up to 3 players who are attempting to hit the free agent market, meaning the pool of free agents is even less.
- There would also be some restrictions placed on the top 8 teams in football in the 2009 season in regards to what they can and can't do in the 2010 off-season. Though the exact way this will work is unknown, here's the premise. Say the Cowboys have one of the 8 best records in '09. They will be restricted in free agency in the following way. If they want to sign a player to a contract worth $30 million, they would first have to dump players on their own team whose contracts total $30 million BEFORE they could sign their targeted player. So the idea of the best teams getting even better because of the lack of a salary cap is a reach.
- If agents think there will be a big windfall of cash due to the "uncapped" season, they are wrong. Thanks to all of the above restrictions, there will be fewer quality free agents even available. And keep in mind that with the lack of a cap, there's also a lack of a salary minimum. That means that low-revenue teams wouldn't have to spend up to a certain amount that they have to do in "capped" years, meaning fewer teams being involved in free agency.
One thing that is worrisome is that Gene Upshaw has already stated that if they get to an "uncapped" season, the salary cap is never coming back. But we'll cross that bridge if/when we come to it.
For now, all you need to know is that there is football in 2008, 2009, and 2010. And with the early opt out by the owners, these two sides can get working early and try to iron out a new CBA before we ever have to worry about the idea of an "uncapped" year, which is probably in everyone's best interest. As far as a work stoppage threat, that wouldn't occur to 2011, but even the owners think there's little to no chance of that happening. And it really shouldn't. Both sides, the players and owners, have way too much to lose for a work stoppage to occur.
So let's get a new CBA done sooner rather than later!