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Players Are Starting To Figure Out That Uncapped Year Is A Mirage

We’ve been saying for a while now that the uncapped year, sold for
more than a decade as a dramatic windfall for players, won’t be nearly
as good as advertised for the men who presumably will benefit from the
absence of a spending limit.

And some players are beginning to figure this out.

Most recently, Bears tight end Desmond Clark has addressed the issue
in his Internet radio show.  (We’ve learned of his comments via ESPN Chicago and Fanhouse.)

“When you talk to most of the players, they think, ‘Oh, it’s an
uncapped year, I can go out and make all this money,'” Clark said. “But
the other eighty-five percent of the league that’s not the top tier
players, they’re going to suffer.”

And he’s right.

Have you noticed the number of one-year deals that players have
signed this year?  On one hand, the players might think that they’ll be
getting a crack at unrestricted free agency in the uncapped year.  On
the other hand, the teams will be wiping the salary commitments to
these players off the books, just in time for the commencement of a
league year that has no salary cap — and no salary floor.

Though the individual minimum salaries for 2010 will still apply,
the maximum required payout will be $855,000.  But that’s for a player
with ten years of service; those guys would have a better shot at
getting a job on Wall Street.

And so a team can choose to fill its roster with younger players,
whose minimum salaries for 2010 range from $545,000 for a fourth-year
player and $320,000 for a rookie.

Thus, with a salary floor of $111 million in 2009, a team could (if it chooses) spend under $50 million in 2010 on player costs.

But what about the big-name players with high-end multi-year deals?
Well, those players can be dumped (and thus their salaries avoided)
with no salary cap consequences at all, because there will be no salary
cap.

Then there’s the reality that the minimum years of service for
unrestricted free agency will jump from four years to six.  As a
result, a team will be able to squat on a key player’s rights for
another season at an investment far lower than the franchise tag.

So Desmond Clark is right.  Only a small number of NFL players will cash in.  The rest of them will be screwed.

As to those who cash in, how much more will they really earn beyond
the current top of the market at the various positions?  In our view,
the current going rates for elite players won’t suddenly jump
dramatically because there’s no salary cap.

Bottom line?  The guys who would get paid huge amounts with a salary
cap will get roughly the same money in an uncapped environment.  For
the rest of the players, the dollars will stay the same, and maybe drop.

And so the NFLPA, in our view, needs to get a new CBA in place
before the next league year starts.  Otherwise, the union will face a
major revolt once players who believe the uncapped year will bring a
pile of gold realize that they’re actually getting a pile of something
else.

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