When the salary cap officially goes away March 5, so will several veterans with mammoth contracts. In the age of the salary cap, teams have found ways to circumvent the system to their own advantage. One way of doing that is with a huge signing bonus spread over the duration of the contract. For example, if a player gets a $20 million signing bonus on a five-year contract, the cap hit for the bonus is $4 million per year and is typically accompanied by modest base salaries for the first two or three years of the deal. However, when a player is released, the unpaid years on the signing bonus come due and the cap hit is accelerated. If that player was cut prior his third season under the above-mentioned contract, the cap hit for that season would be $12 million – the unaccounted for portion of the signing bonus.
Although the cap is going away, the NFL is officially still operating under the 2009 fiscal year. It won't officially end until free agency begins, which is why the news of Brian Westbrook's release from the Eagles won't be official until March 5. To do so prior would put Philadelphia over the salary cap, even though their season was done more than a month ago.
The reason the team can let Westbrook go is that, with no salary cap in 2010, there will also be no acceleration of the remaining "dead money" on his contract for the organization. They can cut Westbrook and effectively get a free cap pass. The same held true for LaDainian Tomlinson, and others will likely follow suit once the cost of getting an albatross contract is no longer hung up by cap concerns or liabilities.
While that may be bad news for some veterans, in the case of teams like the Vikings and Seahawks, it's actually good news. Consider the situation the Vikings would be in if the cap was operational heading into 2010. Although they would be able to be much more active in free agency, they would have about $20 million tied up in Brett Favre and Pat Williams, both of whom hinted at the end of the season that they were considering retirement. Under the old system, the Vikings would have to release them to get the cap space back, because any player under contract counts against the salary cap. Favre signed a two-year deal with the Vikings that could have potentially forced their hand to move on without him if they opted to trade for a veteran QB like Donovan McNabb.
Without a salary cap, it doesn't matter when Favre makes a decision whether or not to return. His salary is technically still on the books, but with no salary cap in place, his eight-figure 2010 contract number means nothing. He can wait until August to return and it won't impact the team's salary cap. The same is true in Seattle, where future Hall of Famer Walter Jones is contemplating retirement. The Seahawks can spend like drunken sailors because of the lack of a cap and not have to worry about cutting people to open up space if Jones opts to return for 2010.
There are a lot of players, especially those who have four or five years of tenure in the league, that are none too happy about the salary cap going away next month. But for some players and teams, including Favre and the Vikings, not having a cap might actually be somewhat beneficial.