When the NFL owners voted unanimously to opt out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NFLPA, it was meant to bring both sides back to the negotiating table to reach a new agreement. To their credit, both NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith are confident a new CBA will be reached by next March. But as it stands right now, the 2010 League Year is uncapped, which is not something either side should want.
One common misunderstanding about the uncapped year is that it will benefit teams with owners who have a reputation for spending all they can in an attempt to win a Lombardi Trophy. (Yes, we're looking at you, Mr. Snyder.) There are, however, mechanisms in place that will prevent the NFL from emulating Major League Baseball's model of free agency, where seemingly only a handful of teams can financially compete for the game's top free agents.
For example, teams that reach the AFC and NFC Conference Championship games would not be permitted to sign any free agents who weren't released or whose contracts with another team had expired. Teams that lose in the AFC and NFC Divisional Playoffs could only sign one player with a salary greater than $4,925,000. Furthermore, these "Final Eight" teams could only sign a player in free agency to a contract that is equal or less than what a player who departed their team via free agency signed with another team.
While the salary cap would be eliminated, so would the salary floor. Teams are required to spend 86.4% of the $127 million dollar salary cap, which means that all teams must spend around $109.7 million dollars this year on player's salaries. Since one reason the owners voted to opt of the CBA was to rein in spending, it's highly probable that small-market and notoriously tight-fisted owners won't be inclined to spend money in free agency.
Teams can also limit their own players' mobility by using not one, but a combination of up to three franchise and/or transition tags, but the biggest impediment to a free agency spending spree is that players would need six, not four, accrued seasons to become unrestricted free agents.
Assuming that each player on the current Atlanta Falcons roster accrues another season (is at full-pay status for six or more regular season games) in 2009, here are the Falcons scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in 2010, but wouldn't if it remains an uncapped year:
Falcons that are unsigned for 2010 and would have the six or more accrued seasons required to become an unrestricted free agent in an uncapped year:
Other Falcons currently unsigned for 2010 and their free agent status (after gaining an accrued season in 2009):
Renardo Foster, OT (Restricted Free Agent)
Brent Grimes, CB (Exclusive Rights Free Agent)
Antoine Harris, CB (Restricted Free Agent)
Jason Rader, TE (Restricted Free Agent)
Jason Snelling, RB (Restricted Free Agent)