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.
Official cap trumped by internal caps
Viking Update Top Stories
Is draft key to 2017 rebound?The Minnesota Vikings have plugged some holes in free agency, but will the draft be the focus of restocking the shelves? If so, what shelf gets stocked first?
Viking Update5:12 AM
Newly signed Murray has surgeryLatavius Murray, the Minnesota Vikings’ replacement for Adrian Peterson had surgery, the team announced Wednesday.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 4:03 PM
Podcast: Free agents, Zimmer’s words and moreWe analyze what the Minnesota Vikings have done, and not done, in free agency, talk team chemistry and more.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 9:03 AM
Zimmer talks state of the VikingsMike Zimmer made an appearance on KFAN Tuesday and got hit with questions from all sides about the state of his Minnesota Vikings.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 7:59 AM
What was Vikings’ ‘business principle?’The Minnesota Vikings signed three big contracts with unrestricted free agents, but the way they structured them seems to hint at their “business principle.”
Viking UpdateYesterday at 7:04 AM