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NFL Owners Opt Out Of CBA....What It Really Means

Yes, the sky is falling, cats and dogs are living together, left is right and right is left.  The NFL Owners have done exactly what everyone thought they were going to do, voting unanimously to opt out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.  Since the announcement there has been alot of talk, complete BS is more accurate, about what it means for the NFL now and in the immediate future.  There are several fine articles, like HERE and HERE .  

What I want to do is combine the best of the best information here so we all know what it means when we hear the term "Uncapped Year" or when a work stoppage could possibly happen.

Let's start by saying this.  Today's news has absolutely no effect on football in 2008 or 2009.  Even if there is no agreement reached between now and next spring there would be football in 2010.  The earliest any type of work stoppage could happen is 2011 and it would be a Lockout by the owners, not a strike by the players.

So, we are good through 2009 with the current system, and are looking at an "uncapped season" in 2010.  What the hell does that mean, anyway?  Many people think the players would love that.  Money would flow like never before and players will reap the benefits of owners who simply cannot help themselves when the competitive juices start flowing.

That might be partially true, but the League and NFLPA were smart to put in place contingencies that protect the best interests of the League from those who run it.  While there would be no salary cap, other restriction would be put in place that makes movement by players even harder than it is right now --

1.  Free Agency Requirements Raised From 4 to 6 Years -- As Peter King explains, players who usually get the right to become free agents after 4 years of service would now be required to have 6 years --

Currently, players who are unsigned and have finished at least four NFL seasons are free. In the 2010 market, players will be free if they are unsigned after at least their sixth NFL season. In other words, 2009 would have to be a player's sixth season, and he would have to enter 2010 unsigned.

Let's use Cleveland wide receiver Braylon Edwards as an example. In his original rookie contract, signed in 2005, the final year is 2009, which would be his fifth NFL season. Ordinarily, he'd be a free-agent in 2010 -- if the team didn't sign him before then or place a franchise tag on him. But under the 2010 rules, he won't be a free-agent.

Pat Kirwin from NFL.com adds even more examples --

Let's start with the Tennessee Titans. They lost defensive ends Travis LaBoy (Arizona) and Antwan Odom (Cincinnati) as well as guard Jacob Bell (St. Louis). The three players signed for a combined total of $87.5 million ($32 million guaranteed). If the extension on time to free agency was in place, none of these players would have been free. All of them had just four years of service and would have remained Titans for upwards of two more years. The Titans would have probably changed their draft strategy and not gone after defensive linemen Jason Jones or William Hayes and could have taken a receiver or a corner.

Other players that never would have seen a big payday: Michael Turner, who signed a $34.5 million deal ($15 million guaranteed) with Atlanta, would still be LaDainian Tomlinson's backup in San Diego; Gibril Wilson would still be a Giant; D.J. Hackett a Seahawk.

No way players will like being restricted for 2 extra seasons.  As it is players want contracts to be shorter and shorter in hopes of getting an extra payday during their career.

2.  Three 'Franchise'-type Tags Instead Of One -- Right now teams can designate one player each year as a "Franchise" player(average of top-5 salaries at position) or "Transition" player(average of top-10 salaries at position), restricting his ability to negotiate with other teams.   Should the League go uncapped in 2010 and 2011 each team would have access to 1-Franchise Tag and 2-Transition Tags.  Not only would a player have to wait 6 years just to get to Free Agency, they would have a much greater likelihood of getting restricted even further with one of these tags.  Kirwin talks about this a bit further -

If this situation existed in 2008, a team like Pittsburgh -- which used a transition tag to retain OT Max Starks -- could have also tagged Alan Faneca with either a transition or franchise tag if it so desired. If every team in the league used one or two tags, not even the three they would possess, it could take another 40 quality free agents off the market.

 

Of course, with an extra 2 years before players even get to that point would keep teams from over-using this stipulation.  And think about it, the average NFL career is over in 3.5 years.

3.  Top 8 Teams Will Be Restricted -- Some people are worried about the NFL becoming like Major League Baseball with 3 or 4 teams at the high end of the salary scale making it hard for small market teams to compete.  In a way, it is the exact opposite.  Another stipulation severely restricts the teams that finish with the Top 8 records.  Once again we join Peter King --

If the uncapped year is reached, the teams with the best eight records in football in 2009 will be severely restricted from jumping into the pool. It's still not precisely determined how the system would work, but let's say the Patriots are one of the top eight and want to sign a free-agent to a five-year, $20-million contract. They'd have to lose their own player or players to contracts totaling $20 million before they could sign the free-agent they want. Conceptually, that's how this clause in the deal is going to work, but the exact mechanics of it are not clear yet. The purpose is very clear: The best teams are going to have tight leashes in free agency. And I can tell you from talking to a few traditionally good teams at the league meetings last week, they're not happy about it.

Essentially teams would get punished for winning.  Think about a team like Indianapolis, a team that manages their finances but also doesn't worry about spending money on a particular free agent when the need arises.  The system would punish them, hamper their ability to make a move in Free Agency for no other reason than their Win/Loss record the year before.  Meanwhile other teams could spend what they wanted.

None of the options above really benefit the players.  Some of them don't benefit the teams and owners that have done a great job in the current system.  The NFL has done a great job in positioning itself as this country's #1 sport in terms of popularity and finances.  Wisely, the men that run the League, that helped it ascend to this point, put in place protective measures to avoid the "worst case scenario".  To put it simply, an uncapped year doesn't help anyone - players, owners or fans.

What will happen?  In my honest opinion both sides know what is at stake.  They have the next year or so to get something done.  There will be dooms-day talk from both sides and things will look bleak at times.  In the end, cooler heads will prevail, the same cooler-heads that have shaped this League into the powerhouse it is today.