The Implications of an Uncapped Year in 2010

As each day passes the chances of an extension to the current NFL labor agreement (or a new agreement) before the start of the 2010 league year are slipping away. If the status quo remains, the NFL will have its first year without a salary cap since the first collective bargaining agreement was put in place in 1993.

This will result in a number of conditions being placed on teams in the Final League Year – an uncapped year - of the CBA and these will have an impact on the Redskins and it's new leadership team in trying to rebuild the ailing franchise.

Three important points to keep in mind when reading this article are:

1. a number of NFL team officials and NFLPA representatives stated back in 2006 when this scenario almost played out last time, that if a new CBA agreement is not in place by the time the uncapped league year opens (late Feb/early March), that year will remain an uncapped year regardless of an agreement being made after that date. The reason? The rules and limitations would already be in place for the season and would disadvantage teams and players if changed midstream.

2. former NFLPA chief Gene Upshaw has stated many times that if the league ever goes to an uncapped year, there will be no going back to a salary cap in the future, even with a new labor agreement.

3. teams that sign players to contracts in 2010 will be able to avoid any possible future cap implications by front loaded contracts with high base salaries in 2010, and also using roster bonuses (these count in the year they are due and paid) instead of signing bonuses (which are spread over the life of the contract for cap accounting purposes)

The major impacts when entering the Final - uncapped – League year of the current CBA can be best summarised as follows:

1. Free Agency Restrictions
Players would need six NFL seasons to be eligible for free agency, rather than four. Any player with five years of experience, who under normal capped season rules would have been an unrestricted free agent in 2010, will now be a restricted free agent in 2010 if the club decides to designate those players as restricted.

The Redskin players affected by the change in free agency rules in an uncapped year in 2010 are:

All these players would have been UFA's in a capped year but will now be restricted free agents should the team elect to offer them a tender.

The tender amounts for RFA's in 2010 if an uncapped year are:

     1. Right of First Refusal – No Draft Compensation: $1,176,000

     2. Right of First Refusal and Draft Selection at Player's Original Draft Round: $1,176,000 or 110% of the players prior year salary whichever is the greater

     3. Right of First Refusal and One Second Round Draft Selection: $1,759,000 or 110% of the player's prior year salary whichever is greater

     4. Right of First Refusal and One First Round Draft Selection: $2,521,000 or 110% of the player's prior year salary whichever is greater

     5. Right of First Refusal, One First Round Draft Selection, and One Third Round Draft Selection: $3,168,000 or 110% of the player's prior year salary whichever is greater

2. Final Eight Plan
During the uncapped year, the eight clubs that make the divisional playoffs in the 2009 season have additional restrictions that limit their ability to sign Unrestricted Free Agents from other clubs. In general, the four clubs participating in the Championship Games are limited in the number of free agents that they may sign; the limit is determined by the number of their own free agents signing with other clubs. For the four clubs that lose in the Divisional playoffs, in addition to having the ability to sign free agents based on the number of their own free agents signing with other clubs, they may also sign players based on specific financial parameters.

3. Additional Transition Tag Designation
In the last league year of a CBA teams are able to use an additional transition tag on a player (in addition to the one franchise tag or transition tag they have access to already).

4. Removal of Rookie Pool
The NFL has the unilateral right to withdraw the rookie pool that governs the amount able to be allocated to college rookies in the year they are drafted/signed as undrafted free agents, in other words the rookies cap cost in year 1 of their NFL careers. 60 day notification to the Players Association is all that is required. Any lifting of this "rookie cap" will allow teams to give rookies significantly more money up front if they so desire including paying "signing" bonuses up front as roster bonuses.

5. No Minimum Team Salary
As with there being no upper salary team limit in an uncapped year, there is also no salary floor. Teams can choose to spend as little as they want on players.

6. Changes to the acceleration of signing and option bonus proration's if multiyear contracted players are released.
There is no acceleration of future prorated signing/option bonuses for players cut on or before June 1 in an uncapped year. The prorated bonus amounts remain prorated into future years, basically having dead cap amounts spread into future years. Of course the effect of this on teams is solely dependant on the existence of a salary cap in the future – which is highly unlikely should we have an uncapped year in 2010. Players cut after June 1, 2010 will have all future bonus proration's accelerated into 2011.

So after reading the information above many people will say "so what, we'll have no cap, we'll be able to dump those large contracts of the many underperforming/overpaid players we have now (because irrespective of the signing/option bonus accounting changes there will be little to no chance of a cap being re-introduced going forward), and we'll be able to put Dan Snyder's wallet to good use in signing a good crop of free agents from a sizeable FA pool to help rebuild the franchise?"

Right?

On the first and second points, the answer is a resounding "yes", but on the third point it's a case of "not so fast".

All of the restrictions that have been built into the current CBA around entering an uncapped season mean that heavy spending owners won't find it as easy to load up their teams in free agency as it first appears to the casual observer.

For starters, as mentioned above once the salary cap disappears, players can't be free agents until they've completed six NFL seasons, rather than four. That means there will be fewer quality young players in the 2010 free-agent pool, and less talent for any high spending teams to pick from..............unless they want to part with draft picks and make bids on players who are restricted free agents. This will affect over 200 players – a huge hole in the unrestricted free agent pool effectively reducing it by nearly 50%!

Secondly, teams in 2010 would own an extra transition tag, meaning a franchise could use both a franchise tag and a transition tag (or two transition tags) on two of its own free agents in the same season, as opposed to the one they have in a capped year. Again, that stipulation should serve to limit the quality of the free agents who actually reach the open free agent market. Teams will be able to match any offers from rival clubs.

Thirdly, the final eight plan will limit those teams that made the divisional round of the playoffs in 2009 in the free agent market. The NFL's final four teams wouldn't be able to sign an unrestricted free agent until they had lost one of their own. The other four teams among the final eight to be eliminated in 2009 would have some salary restrictions on the free agents they signed, which would serve to keep them from being able to afford any top free agents that were not on their teams in 2009. This restriction will also make these final eight teams more determined to re-sign their own free agent players before or shortly after the free agent market opens in 2010.

This will mean that Bruce Allen and our soon to be announced replacement as Head Coach will have a diluted pool of quality free agents to choose from next year and will need to compete aggressively against other teams who will also be in the bidding.

The rebuilding of the Washington Redskins has been made a little more challenging in 2010.

© Robert Large, 2010

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