One of the biggest adjustments is that unrestricted free agency changes from four accrued seasons to six.
That means that players who would've finished up their fourth NFL seasons in 2009 -- and would've looked forward to unrestricted free agency in 2010 under the old rules -- now have to wait two more years. That will greatly reduce the amount of unrestricted free agents available next season, so teams can't afford to make mistakes this time around.
Another factor that will limit player movement is that the uncapped year also gives teams the ability to "freeze'' two players. In addition to the franchise tag they already have, teams will be given an additional transition tag. That means fewer quality players will be available for talent-poor teams to target.
If the league gets to the point of an uncapped year, people are afraid that deep-pocket owners such as Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder will come in and buy a championship. If the aggressive owners already have playoff teams, there will be restrictions on how much money they can spend. The formula may slide with the number of players they lose in free agency, but the plan is designed to not let teams buy a championship. The truth is, the first two triggers aren't going to leave too many players available to acquire anyway.
Under the new rules, free agents who want to leave a losing team and go play for a winner will be limited. Based on the new regulations, the four teams that play in the conference championship games, are restricted in the amount of free agents they can sign (the number is related to the number of free agents they lose). There are also restrictions on the four teams that lose in the division playoffs. There will be a "Final 8" rule in 2010.
The rule will restrict the final eight teams in the playoffs from signing free agents. The final four teams shall not be permitted to negotiate and sign any unrestricted free agent to a player contract except for players who acquired their status by being cut or were on the final four team when their contract expired. Playoff teams five thru eight get a break to sign one player with a salary of $4,925,000 or more and any number of players with a first-year salary of no more than $3,275,000 and an annual increase of no more than 30 percent in the following years.
There is a mechanism to permit the final eight teams to sign an unrestricted free agent for each one of their own unrestricted free agents who sign with another club as long as they don't spend more than what their own lost player received from his new club.
All of this is taking place because, last May, the NFL owners opted out of the current collective bargaining agreement. Because they did so, the labor contract now ends after the 2010 season -- but that season is an uncapped year. The NFL Players Association has said that if the league ever goes to an uncapped season, the players will never again accept a salary cap.
Don't think all the trigger points favor the clubs, because there are other things -- like the end of the NFL draft in 2011 -- which the league doesn't necessarily want to see. And the emergence of a new league could complicate matters. If the owners decide not to continue the CBA this week, all is not lost. There is time, and there are triggers in place, to get this solved.
Every player from the 2005 draft who signed a five-year contract and every player who signed a four-year deal in 2006 would miss out on eligibility for free agency and revert back to their club as a restricted free agent. Keep in mind, teams target this group over all others when it comes to spending the big money in free agency.
On the surface it might appear that the older veterans would get the windfall with their younger competitors off the market, but this group will take a hit because teams will have three tags instead of one to restrict true veterans from being entirely free. Another general manager projects that this mechanism will lock up 30 players. As you can see, 200 players would be off the market.
For all practical purposes, free agency will not have any teeth in 2010 and close to 200 players hoping to hit a big pay day will have to wait at least a year and risk injury.
As a result, many observers believe the owners will lock out the players prior to the 2011 season (the owners don't have the option of a lockout prior to the 2010 season).
To avoid an uncapped season in 2010 the two sides will have to agree to a new CBA by next March. As of now, there has been zero progress toward that goal.