Union Needs To Be More Candid With Players About The "Uncapped Year"

Ever since the landmark Collective Bargaining Agreement was negotiated by the NFL and the NFL Players Association to resolve the antitrust lawsuit filed by several players (led by the late Reggie White) after the 1987 players’ strike, the last season of the CBA has been scheduled to unfold without a salary cap.
And that potential uncapped year always has been characterized as a significant windfall for the players, under the presumption that the owners won’t be able to restrain themselves, and thus will overspend in the pursuit of talented players.
But the reality promises to be far different than Pacman Jones personally delivering eight-figure signing bonuses by throwing the cash into the air over a guy’s front lawn.
With no salary cap, there will be no salary floor.  And with far more teams currently well below the 2009 salary cap, what’s more likely to happen next year:  (1) a spending spree that drives multiples franchises toward bankruptcy; or (2) a reeling in of player expenses as the teams gird for a work stoppage in 2011?
Our own uncapped pool of gambling money is on the latter.  And we think the union is failing in its mission to sufficently prepare the players for this reality.
Case in point:  The NFLPA posted today on its web site an article, titled What Happens To Benefits In An Uncapped Year? It’s the kind of dry, boring, detail-driven drivel that most players won’t read.  And none of those who actually do will be troubled by anything contained in the question-and-answer-style format.
Here’s the kind of stuff that the union should be providing to the players:
Q:  Will teams have any minimum spending requirements in an uncapped year?
A:  No, not really.  Apart from paying to each player the individual minimum salaries, teams aren’t required to spend in any collective minimum amount.  In theory, a team could cut every player on the roster and then offer only one-year minimum-salary contracts.  This would result in total player expenses of less than $50 million.  In contrast, the minimum per-team salary obligation in 2009 is $111 million.
Q:  My five-year rookie contract expires after the 2009 season.  Will I be an unrestricted free agent in the uncapped year?
A:  Actually, no.  You won’t be.  Sorry.  In an uncapped year, six years of service are needed to qualify for unrestricted free agency.  So you’ll be a restricted free agent instead, and your team will be able to automatically hold your rights by, in most cases, tendering a one-year contract worth far, far less than the franchise tag.  So, basically, you’re screwed.  Again, sorry.
(Actually, we found an item from June 2008 in which the union mentions that six years of service will be necessary in the uncapped year.  But a lot has happened since June 2008, and this is a message that the union needs to be sending far more frequently, and much nore clearly.)
Q:  For guys who will be unrestricted free agents, there still will be teams who are willing to spend a whole bunch of money to sign really good players, right?
A:  Well, maybe.  It all depends on whether those teams make it to the divisional round of the playoffs.  For the “Final Eight” teams in the 2009 playoffs, there are specific restrictions regarding the number of free agents who can be signed, and the money that can be paid to them.  So, basically, you need to root for the Cowboys and the Redskins to not make the playoffs.  So if you play for the Cowboys or the Redskins, you’d be doing the rest of your union brethren a real solid if you could find a way to choke, again.
We think the NFLPA isn’t being frank with the players because the union is playing a dangerous game of chicken.  The union wants the owners to believe that the union wants an uncapped year.  And the union wants its constituents to think that an uncapped year will be only a great thing, so that the players will help foster the notion that the union wants an uncapped year.
And so, when the owners call the union’s bluff and show zero motivation to do a deal before the start of the uncapped year (and, frankly, that’s precisely what we now think will be happening), the union will find itself in a huge bind once the players begin to figure out that the uncapped year won’t do much to feather anyone’s nest in advance of a lockout.  (Except for the owners.)
As I recently explained to a member of the media, I don’t think that Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman realizes he’ll be a restricted free agent in March 2010.  And I also think that, if this isn’t adequately explained to Merriman before March 2010, he’ll personally fly to D.C. and turn the “lights out” at the NFLPA offices.
He probably won’t be alone.

20 responses to “Union Needs To Be More Candid With Players About The "Uncapped Year"

  1. and what an amazing off season it will be.
    Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder…. make it rain!

  2. The Union is probably scared to admit that they allowed these poison pills to be negotiated into the CBA. Especially since an uncapped year is actually a real possibility this time.

  3. Which team would benefit by having a lot of unrestricted free agents in 2010 that would become restricted with no deal? Maybe Green Bay?

  4. Just call it the Unfloored year instead of Uncapped. The only owners who’d really go too extreme are JJ and Snyder.

  5. I agree that the players need to wake up and realize these facts…no cap no floor..a LOT LESS money could be spent on players and they do need to realize it. The players have a lot to lose here as do the owners..but it seems like the players are not being informed like they should be. The poison pills were placed there so that an uncapped year would not happen…that is the whole point of them..so that both sides will be hurt and they’ll work out an extension..not sure owners are hurt by any that are in place.

  6. Players, much like voters, lose interest in complicated issues.
    They need a rhyme to help them understand.

  7. “So if you play for the Cowboys or the Redskins, you’d be doing the rest of your union brethren a real solid if you could find a way to choke, again. ”
    No worries there, Mike, its pretty much a lock on that happening.

  8. Mike, Do PFT Planet a favor and provide the numbers of players that fall in to each category? With the lifespan of a typical NFL player, I’m guessing that there are a high % of players that fall in to the 5 year and under slots.
    In response to “raideralexander”… the players that care, read PFT.

  9. Out of curiosity, what are the agents getting paid for again? Shouldn’t they be the ones explaining to their clients the impact of an uncapped year?

  10. misterj says:
    May 30th, 2009 at 12:14 am
    Just call it the Unfloored year instead of Uncapped. The only owners who’d really go too extreme are JJ and Snyder.
    the idea that JJ spends a lot of FA money and belongs in the same sentence as Snyder and Al Davis is uninformed to say the least. Since the early 90’s JJ has went out and dropped a big FA contract outspending other owners on Deion Sanders and………..that’s about it. once in about 17-20 years. Now he’s given some nice FA contract to Leonard Davis, Jason Furgeson and another guy or two, but never the outlandish deals like Snyder or Al Davis hand out.
    Dallas got into cap trouble in the late 90’s because Aikman, Irvin and a few others had premature ends to their career leaving Dallas a lot of dead cap money on the books, that far different from what happened with the Skins and 49ers who tried to sign every FA that hit the market.

  11. These guys are all college educated, right? (yes, it’s sarcasm)
    They need to know enough to ask their agent, “what is my situation if this happens?”
    How hard can that be?

  12. The first un capped year may have such restrictions, but the players could end up getting real enforcable contracts that can not just be torn up at any time like so many knee ligaments.
    Some guys may get cut and offered minimum salary, which obviously there is still a salary floor coolectivly as well as individually, it just is variable on how long each of the final 53 players have been in the NFL and stuff but will be at least 50 mil even if all minimum 1 year deals, which is a pretty unlikley even stupid concern.
    Players who get cut do not fall into the RFA or restricted rules. Only the players that do not have 6 years and the rookie contract expired and they did not have a good salary would they “get screwed” they would have to be tendered 20% higer than what they make in 2009 to be restricted, and then all another team has to do is give up future draft picks to sign a RFA, and there may not even be any drafts past 2011 anyway.
    Football players have nothing to fear in free market football. Most of them do not have anything solid right now anyway in terms of job security. If they get a deal anything like Hockey, Baseball or baskettball they will have a lot more individual long term security than the deal the owners opted out of.that is only good to top 10 draft picks and young unrestricted free agents that do not get franchise tagged.
    Either way the public loves football, and although it would seem they never support the players on any issues, it was not the players that opted out of the deal early and threaten to change NFL football as we know it.
    With over 110, D 1 college football programs producing players, there is always going to be a market for pro football and a pool of players the fans know and love already. If the NFL does not work out a deal someone else will produce premium pro football, with better finacial rules, and better enfoced pass interference and holding rules, and replay review of every call and big play like in college only a step further.

  13. Maybe all the players should get together and use their college educations to figure this one out…

  14. At first I thought that maybe Florio was off a bit on how big of a deal this is and that perhaps we would have any teams drop below the floor at all. However…
    Per PFT:
    the minimum per-team salary obligation in 2009 is $111 million.
    per this article: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/messages/chrono/15058031/0/0/15071446
    The adjustments, first reported by FoxSports.com, do not affect the minimum team salary of $107,748,000
    I’m not sure where to find the official numbers, although I have a feeling Florio did his homework. I’m using the $111 mil number for the data below.
    As for the salary cap max, the CBS article mentioned above sets it at $128 mil, which that we’re only dealing with $17 – $20 mil of potential cap number differences among all of the teams in the league. One would think given the seeming financial disparity among some of the have and have not teams/owners that there would naturally be a larger difference from top to bottom than what the numbers currently allow. This would seem to support Florio’s assertion that we’ll have teams dropping below the floor.
    Also, if you look at this post from Florio back in February http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/messages/chrono/15058031/0/0/15071446 there are quite a few teams that would appear to be well below the limit even after rookie signings and the increases mentioned in the article. It would seem then that there will be some teams who will have to purposefully inflate or increase their cap numbers so as to get above the floor this year. And if that is the case they obviously wouldn’t be doing that if the floor were gone.
    We have no evidence to support the notion that a team would take advantage of the missing floor and make drastic player salary spending cuts, but based on past behaviors of some of the owners I suppose it wouldn’t shock me.

  15. If there is no cba, why do players, teams, agents, etc. have to abide by certain rules? the team no longer has a minimum salary to maintain, why should a player be restricted unless he has accrued 6 years of service? any player without a contract should be a free to sign with any team for any amount.

  16. jfp says:
    May 30th, 2009 at 7:57 am
    Out of curiosity, what are the agents getting paid for again? Shouldn’t they be the ones explaining to their clients the impact of an uncapped year?

    Just like they explained to them not to take Star Caps.

  17. @ birdofprey: There’s an older agreement that’s still in effect for another year after the CBA wears off.
    I think you’re going to see two different strategies to this uncapped year.
    Teams that don’t think the cap/floor will come back will clean house to save money. You’ll see a lot of teams well below the floor and most of them won’t be competitive.
    Teams that do think the cap/floor will come back in the new agreement will shell out for a few front-loaded contracts, and stock up key pieces for coming years. Then they’ll watch the NFLPA sweat as Florio’s predictions all come true and the NFLPA runs out of “leverage” (as it were: like Blazing Saddles…). Whatever happens, there will be a deal sometime in the next 14 months, after all: everybody wants that.
    I suspect that many teams see themselves as forced to overspend by the cap/floor and still think it’s a net positive. The salary cap has been a spectacular boon to the NFL: The cap leads to parity, parity leads to suspense, suspense leads to higher ratings, and higher ratings lead to more $ for everyone. Struggling teams can sell more season tix because fans know it’s the NFL and anything can happen. Without a cap, it’s like any other sport, and if your guys sucked last year they’ll probably suck this year too.

  18. Madden07: “Which team would benefit by having a lot of unrestricted free agents in 2010 that would become restricted with no deal? Maybe Green Bay?”
    Look at two things:
    1) Total value of 2005 draft, excluding players with 6-yr contracts or who have already been extended
    2) Cost to re-sign other free agents.
    I say the Chargers would have the most to gain from a single uncapped year. Extended free agents from new format: Merriman, Marcus McNeill, Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Cromartie. Guys who come up after this year anyway: Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Chris Chambers, Darren Sproles.

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