It seems like a long time before the 2010 free agency period will be upon us, but it is amazing how many players haven't even started to think about how it relates to them.
I spent the better part of the week talking to NFL players about how an uncapped year in 2010 would affect them. Most didn't know, but promised to find out.
Here's some early indications of what's ahead.
A general manager told me that the projections for players scheduled to be free agents -- if it were a capped year -- could be upwards of 170 fewer players if it is uncapped. Every player from the 2005 draft who signed a five-year contract and every player who signed a four-year deal in 2006 would miss out on eligibility for free agency and revert back to their club as a restricted free agent. Keep in mind, teams target this group over all others when it comes to spending the big money in free agency.
Now that NFL owners have voted unanimously to end their agreement with the players' union in 2011, they still have all of 2008 and 2009 to negotiate a new CBA before the "trigger" points that are in place to encourage negotiations would fire and things wouldn't be as we know them today.
The one factor fans have heard the most about is that 2010 and 2011 would be "uncapped" years. But there are three main trigger points that will go off in 2010 if there isn't a new CBA in place, and they may offset the fear of life with no salary cap. More ...
On the surface it might appear that the older veterans would get the windfall with their younger competitors off the market, but this group will take a hit because teams will have three tags instead of one to restrict true veterans from being entirely free. Another general manager projects that this mechanism will lock up 30 players. As you can see, 200 players would be off the market.
There could still be a few choice players left to test free agency and a number of solid players on bad teams will be looking to go to contending teams. A team such as the Patriots has always done a great job in free agency, getting very good veterans on reasonable deals because a player wants a chance at a Super Bowl ring. Well, there will be a "Final 8" rule in 2010.
The rule will restrict the final eight teams in the playoffs from signing free agents. The final four teams shall not be permitted to negotiate and sign any unrestricted free agent to a player contract except for players who acquired their status by being cut or were on the final four team when their contract expired. Playoff teams five thru eight get a break to sign one player with a salary of $4,925,000 or more and any number of players with a first-year salary of no more than $3,275,000 and an annual increase of no more than 30 percent in the following years.
There is a mechanism to permit the final eight teams to sign an unrestricted free agent for each one of their own unrestricted free agents who sign with another club as long as they don't spend more than what their own lost player received from his new club.
For all practical purposes, free agency will not have any teeth in 2010 and close to 200 players hoping to hit a big pay day will have to wait at least a year and risk injury.