What it means: Possibilities abound for uncapped NFL year
By Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY
ATLANTA — Since purchasing the Washington Redskins in 1999, Dan Snyder has been defined by bold moves. He lured Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs out of retirement in 2004 and had a payroll of nearly $100 million in 2000 after adding aging veterans Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith and Jeff George.
So imagine Snyder — whose team plays in the NFL's largest stadium, FedEx Field, and in 2007 earned NFL-high revenue estimated at $312 million — in an uncapped year.
The prospect of the NFL playing the 2010 season without a salary cap, triggered by the owners' decision to opt out of its collective bargaining agreement two years early, might provide cash-flush owners with the opportunity to stock teams as never before.
Snyder, though, insisted Tuesday that he didn't envision stocking up in 2010 despite the possibility of losing the constrictions of a salary cap.
"No, not at all," said Snyder, whose team didn't make a big splash in free agency this offseason. "We've always been aggressive in free agency, but I think you can see from this year that it's been based on when we've had more needs in some years than we had in other years."
The 2010 season looms as a Pandora's box, given the financial disparity between some NFL teams. According to Forbes, the Redskins grossed $130 million more in 2007 than the Minnesota Vikings.
That fuels questions of whether the league's competitive balance could be skewed by a free-for-all environment.
Despite the disparities, it's difficult to predict how an uncapped 2010 would unfold, given the conditions attached to an uncapped year:
• The top eight playoff finishers from the previous season would be allowed to sign free agents only at the rate at which they lose them.
• Players would need six NFL seasons to be eligible for free agency, rather than four.
• Each team would be allowed to restrict two eligible free agents with "franchise" or "transition" player tags, rather than one.
The biggest impact of an uncapped year might be the timetable both sides face to strike a new deal. The prospect of an uncapped year in 2007 was a driving force that led to the collective bargaining agreement in March 2006. Players union chief Gene Upshaw sees an uncapped year as a point of no return, saying once players get out of a salary-cap system, they wouldn't agree to another in ensuing years.
"That's what we see as a realistic deadline," Upshaw said, referring to the league year starting in March 2010. "If nothing is done by then ... I'm not going to try to sell players on cap again. I don't know who will, but it won't be me. Once we go through the cap, why should we get it again?"
Countered commissioner Roger Goodell, "In 1993 we didn't have a capped system and we got one. So I'm sure there will be a lot of rhetoric about a no-cap system, but we were able to make that transition before, and we'll be able to do it again if necessary."
In an uncapped year, Upshaw said, players would receive more than the 60% of total revenue that is currently central to the rift with owners. Upshaw said even with the prospect of an uncertain 2010, he is advising players to sign long-term deals if the numbers work. He thinks that could supply players with leverage in renegotiations.
Some teams are already operating in anticipation of an uncapped year. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he has thought for months about 2010 and how decisions that include signing players to long-term contracts weigh against the potential upheaval of the system.
"One thing is certain," Jones said. "It will become a bigger challenge for everybody."
Jones made two moves Tuesday that surely reflected his planning. He signed cornerback Terence Newman (six years, $50 million) and running back Marion Barber III (seven years, $45 million) to deals that will tie them to the team through 2014. By signing them before a 3 p.m. deadline Tuesday, Dallas avoided accounting rules that go into effect with the revised collective bargaining agreement.