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Uncapped 2010 could make things worse for already bad teams

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Random thoughts and worthless picks for Week 6 ...

I just got back from my third go-round of NFL league meetings in 2009 and the best part of these otherwise mundane sessions is Colts owner Jim Irsay's suits. The man can rock some pinstripes. At every meeting, he sports an ensemble that makes him look like he stepped right out of "The Untouchables" or the "Godfather" trilogy.

Anyway, the big news that came out of these meetings other than owners making it clear that radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh would not be welcome into their exclusive club, was labor talk. I'm not going to bog you down with the ABCs of the CBA. It's TMI for N.O.W.

Darron Cummings / Associated Press
Whether he is celebrating a Super Bowl victory or talking about potential new owners in St. Louis, you can always count on Colts owner Jim Irsay being dressed to the nines.

However, with owners saying they've girded for a 2010 season with no salary cap, you better hope your team drafted well this season and last season. Sure, it's exciting to think the owner of your team might break open the vault to get Brandon Marshall or Vincent Jackson -- even Shawne Merriman or Braylon Edwards. But in an uncapped 2010, those potential difference-making free agents could have restrictions placed on them that choke off their availability and leave your needy team out of luck.

That's why so many teams are hoping they drafted well this season and do as well or better in the 2010 draft. With the free-agent pool potentially limited, some of these teams could be in the same rut they're in right now if their draft picks don't pan out.

"We have got to try to have as many [picks] as we can and we've got to be real good in the draft," winless Chiefs coach Todd Haley said. "That's imperative in our success. This year better end up turning out pretty good and this year coming up, we better be really good. I don't think there's any other way."

As things stand, players like Marshall, Edwards, Merriman and Jackson can become unrestricted free agents after four seasons. If 2010 has no salary cap, however, players are restricted free agents until after six years of service. If a team wants to sign a restricted free agent, it would have to give up as much as first- and third-round picks to get that player -- and that's before it pays him a big contract. That is a deal-breaker.

Now you can see why so many players, like Marshall, have been clamoring to sign long-term deals. The money they receive now could be greater than anything they could receive with their inability to test free agency unfettered.

That might not be great news for bad and rebuilding teams like St. Louis, Kansas City, Buffalo or other franchises that need to upgrade their talent. It could be even worse for ailing veteran teams like Tennessee or Jacksonville, that could use free-agent help to augment their rosters since they think they can still be competitive now.

"That's the key for success for any year … you don't see teams do well in free agency and all of a sudden become successful," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. "Free agency is used to fill in holes and is an element of roster building but at the end of the day, you have to draft players and develop players and manage your cap properly to be successful. I think that's the case in any year."

Further limiting movement, teams will have an additional franchise tag to slap on players. There are also semi-complicated limits on free-agent acquisitions for the final eight playoff teams. So, despite teams having a ton of money to spend, the cavalry ain't coming to the rescue because some of the best players might not be available.

Of course, all this could be moot if the NFL and the NFLPA reach a new collective bargaining agreement in time to stave off an uncapped 2010 season. That's questionable at this point. Reps from the NFL and NFLPA will be meeting next week to further contract talks but nothing will be finalized by then.

What a rush on Rush

The ownership group that includes St. Louis Blues owner Dave Checketts pretty much had no choice but to part ways with Limbaugh after NFL owners -- and Goodell -- made it pretty clear Limbaugh was too much of a controversial figure to be approved as an owner of the Rams, even though he was only going to have a minority share of the team.

It's not so much his politics or beliefs that made him radioactive with owners. It's the fact that he has piped up so openly, so profoundly and so controversially on his widely-heard platform that did him in. Buttoned up NFL leadership doesn't want one of its own being such a lightning rod for anything other than football-related decisions.

The under-played story regarding the Rams' potential sale is that nothing is imminent in the short term. Rams owners Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez are listening to offers for their woeful franchise but they aren't desperate to sell, I was told by league sources who know about the process.

The feeling is that, yes, the Rams will have a new owner(s) within the next two to three years, but right now things are more in the feeling-out process (unless an offer that is too appealing and too sound comes across the table). Checketts has said he wants to keep the team in St. Louis and the feeling is that the league would like the Rams to remain there as well.

What is interesting is that there was a lot more chatter and positive vibe at these meetings about Los Angeles (the Rams' former home) being a viable option to get a team again.

Curb appeal

The Rams are going to need to improve some elements of product in order for Rosenbloom and Rodriguez to get top dollar. Although the talent-bare team is arguably the worst in the NFL, it competes as hard as any in the league, a person whose team recently faced St. Louis told me. However, the atmosphere in the Edward Jones Dome was one of the worst he'd seen -- including on the Rams' bench -- where he suggested more high-character veterans might be needed to change some attitudes and provide proper guidance.

First-year coach Steve Spagnuolo and GM Billy Devaney are getting positive reviews for sticking to their rebuilding plan and trying to keep players upbeat during the 0-5 start. They simply don't have much to work with.

ID check

The Redskins offense has no identity and is the team's Achilles' heel, but the problems may go beyond injuries and spotty play along the offensive line: Washington's West Coast offense doesn't fit the strengths of its personnel, according to a member of an opposing team.

The Redskins were built, under previous coach Joe Gibbs, to run the ball. Quarterback Jason Campbell is best throwing the ball off play-action. However, Washington uses a timing-based, short- to intermediate-route passing attack that doesn't seem to play to most players' strengths, especially Campbell's.

The futility is driving owner Dan Snyder crazy, but I have been told by a reliable source that coach Jim Zorn is safe for the time being. Whether that time extends beyond this weekend's game with Kansas City remains to be seen, but all indications are that a coaching change won't be made until after the season.

Credit paid where credit is due

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has already drawn comparisons to Peyton Manning for his accuracy, winning, work ethic and ability to diagnose anything and everything that comes his way. Yet, the comparisons need to be broadened a bit and a little more credit needs to go to the guys who've kept the quarterbacks upright.

Player to watch
Packers outside linebacker Aaron Kampman: Moving from defensive end in the shift from a four-man front to a 3-4, Kampman has just one sack in four games. This time last season he had four. He finished 2008 with 9.5 sacks. Kampman and Green Bay face Detroit, which has allowed 17 sacks. If the Packers get a sizable lead and Detroit has to throw to stay in it, it will be interesting to see if Kampman finally breaks through or if his responsibilities in this defense continue to adversely affect his pass-rushing numbers, which have been among the best in the NFL the past three seasons.

-- Steve Wyche

Ryan, like Manning, has only been sacked a league-low two times. For Indianapolis, it's more outstanding because Manning has thrown 58 more passes than Ryan, giving defenses more opportunities to get to him. As comfortable as Manning may feel now, Ryan has to be extra cozy knowing he could be well guarded for years. Left tackle Sam Baker is in his second season; left guard Jason Blalock his third. Right guard Harvey Dahl, one of the nastier players in the NFL, is in his third season. Right tackle Tyson Clabo in entering his fourth season.

What's ailing the Chiefs?

Besides having little NFL-caliber talent, the Chiefs are the worst team in the league in terms of putting themselves in harm's way. Haley said negative plays and penalties have put Kansas City in more third-and-long (seven yards or more) situations than any other team. All told, the Chiefs have 400 negative yards, which, if you do the simple math, has cost them at least four touchdowns.

For a team with no margin for error, you can see why they've yet to win. That might not be the case for much longer, though.

A perfect segue to my ...

... Worthless picks

Bengals, Packers, Rams (St. Louis gets its first "W" but nobody will be in Jacksonville to witness it), Vikings, Saints (Eli comes home but N'awlins completes the trifecta over New York teams this season to win the Empire State championship), Steelers, Panthers, Eagles, Seahawks, Patriots (at 0-6, Tennessee might make a lot more changes than just at quarterback), Jets, Falcons, and Chargers (Broncos take their first "L," Norv breaks out the McDaniels fist thrust).

Upset of the week

Chiefs over Redskins: Haley's gang seems like it's getting better while Washington looks like it's getting caught up in all the controversy and negativity instead of using it as motivation.

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