Official cap trumped by internal caps

It's official. There is no salary cap in 2010, but several teams say they have a budget set up to show restraint in their free-agent spending.

With the league officially entering an uncapped year with the opening of free agency at 12:01 a.m. EST Friday morning, an era of uncertainly was also ushered in.

Many teams have already declared they will have an internal salary cap. Others will be wary of lavishing lucrative contracts on free agents because of possible future ramifications once a new labor agreement is reached.

So there were no $100 million deals in the opening hours after 531 players officially became free agents, only a smattering of smaller signings and reports of bigger names such as defensive end Julius Peppers lining up visits.

Even "big-market" teams such as Dallas claim they will operate as normal and don't view an uncapped year as an opportunity to simply outbid others for players they have targeted.

"We do have a budget," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "We can operate within that budget and do whatever we want to do. If it made sense to us then, it makes sense now. Just by the definition, there's no cap this year. We have that right at the top of our budget."

The uncapped year also shrank the unrestricted free-agent pool, as players with three to five accrued seasons were eligible to receive qualifying offers from their old teams. They can still negotiate with other teams, but their original team has a right to match that offer or potentially receive draft pick compensation.

Of the 531 free agents, 216 fall in the restricted category after receiving qualifying offers. Another 89 potential restricted free agents were not tendered offers and are now unrestricted.

"We have the resources to do what we want to do, and we will continue to go through the evaluations of potential players that are going to be out there," said Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, whose team has been mentioned as a possible destination for several of the top free agents who hit the market Friday.

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