Fans across the NFL are excited about the free-agent season that begins this weekend, although it will be far different than what we as fans have seen over the past 20 years of free agency. Because there will be no new agreement between NFL owners and players before Friday, March 5 begins a new league year that is uncapped instead of capped.
At first glimpse, this appears to be a boon to NFL fans. No longer will their favorite teams have to limit themselves in free agency. Everyone on the market seemingly becomes an option. And although fewer players will hit the market (players must have 6 years of service instead of 4 to become unrestricted free agents), the fact that a team can spend its way to anyone and everyone on their wish list makes fans salivate.
But what fans don’t realize is that a much bigger cap weighs on teams in this uncapped year, and that cap is cash. And we predict (outlandishly, perhaps) that most teams won’t be enthuisastic to spend their cash reserves with a potential labor stoppage looming larger and larger in 2011.
The uncapped year not only strips the maximum salary expenditure off the books for NFL teams; it pulls the minimums off as well. And many teams are looking to streamline their budgets on player salary this year so that they have the cash holdings to survive a labor stoppage that could cost games in 2011.
For example, the Carolina Panthers chose not to franchise DE Julius Peppers, in the process saving a $20 million expenditure both in terms of the salary cap and more importantly in terms of cash. And it’s hard to see the Panthers dropping that $20 million on a replacement for Peppers (like a Kyle Vanden Bosch) and maybe another player or two. Instead, banking half of that money for a rainy day – in a league with labor storm clouds on the horizon – is a much more appealing strategy to many teams.
Fans don’t like to hear that owners won’t be spending the money from their cash cow teams. Sorry, fans, but it’s time for all of us to unplug our ears and realize just how lethargic this free agent market could be. There is a cap in place for 2010 – it’s just located in the accountant’s office instead of the league office.