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Talking Free Agency

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As you can see by the counter in the left sidebar, we are now less than 44 days away from the beginning of the NFL's free agency signing period - which begins on Friday, February 27.  So I thought a good idea for a mid-week post would be a simple factual post about some free agency facts.

In particular, I wanted to discuss something that some of you have probably been thinking about.  If no new collective bargaining agreement is reached before the beginning of the "league year" in 2010, then 2010 will be an "uncapped" year - meaning there will be no league-imposed salary cap.  But before I get into those details, one quick point on where the Dolphins currently stand in terms of their 2009 salary cap situation.

The salary cap for 2009 is expected to be at least $123 million.  And depending on who you ask, it could be set as high as $126 million.  So where do the Dolphins currently stand?  It's hard to give an exact figure.  But I have done some work - and I have a pretty solid grasp on how the cap system works - and it's safe to say that the Dolphins, for '09, are between $25 million and $30 million under the salary cap.  And that number is good enough to rank the Dolphins in the top quarter of the league in terms of cap space.  So, in theory, the Dolphins can really go hard after any one particular "high-end" player they may want and still have enough money left over fill their roster with other solid additions.

But now onto some of the 2010 "uncapped year" facts and what it means, both now and next year.

  • The possibility of an uncapped season does mean one key thing for 2009.  It means teams can't manipulate their salary cap number to create more room right now.  They won't be able to take a player with a large cap number due to a high salary and turn part of that salary into a bonus, which then could be prorated over future years - spreading the cap number out over time.  So, for example, Joey Porter's 2009 cap number is $7.4 million.  Of that, his salary is $4.8 million.  So what the Dolphins cannot do because of the potential "uncapped" season in 2010 is take $3 million of that salary and convert it to a bonus, which will be paid out over the remaining 3 years, which would have dropped Porter's '09 cap number to $5.4 million.  Luckily for the Dolphins, this isn't really an issue for them.  But not being able to convert salary into bonuses could restrict other teams greatly.
  • Currently, a player can become an unrestricted free agent when his contract expires and that player has accrued 4 seasons in the league.  If 2010 is uncapped, the number of necessary accrued NFL seasons jumps to 6 - meaning any player whose contract expires and has less than 6 years in the league will be restricted free agents, greatly reducing the number of unrestricted free agents available to NFL teams.
  • The league's top 8 teams will face extra restrictions.  Here's how the restrictions would work (in a nut shell).  Any of the 8 teams who are in the previous season's divisional playoff round can only sign free agents at the rate in which they lose them.  For example, if one of the top 8 teams wants to sign a free agent to a $30 million contract, they can only do so once they lose players whose new contracts with other teams total $30 million.  However, the 4 teams that reach the divisional round but lose and don't make it to the conference title games will be able to sign one player with a contract of $4.925 million or more in the first season as well as any number of players whose first-year salary is no more than $3.275 million and escalates no more than 30% per year over the life of the contract.  Confusing?  Yes.  But it's a way to keep the best teams from being able to simply buy championships.  And do keep in mind that what I explained is just the basic idea of the restrictions to be placed on those 8 teams.  To my knowledge, the exact way it would work isn't 100% known at this time.
  • As it stands now, teams can assign the "franchise" tag to one player each season - paying that player a one-year salary that totals the average of the top 5 salaries at that player's particular position.  Teams can also currently use the "transition" tag on one player as well (rather than the "franchise" tag - can't use both), which pays that player a one-year salary that totals the average of the top 10 salaries at that player's position.  But if the league goes uncapped in 2010, rather than just one tag, teams can use 3 tags in one offseason - one "franchise" and two "transitions."  This would further restrict the actual number of free agents available to teams.

So I hope this little post helps answer some of the questions you may have had.  If you have any more, feel free to ask and I'll answer as best I can (or find out the answer if I'm unsure).