So here we go: uncapped year ‘virtually certain’


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In case you missed, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell came out yesterday on the Network and verbalized what we all assumed: It’s “virtually certain” that the league  will move into the 2010 season without a new CBA,  triggering the uncapped year.

What does it mean for the Patriots?

Start with Logan Mankins and Stephen Gostkowski, who would’ve been unrestricted free agents in the old system, but will without question be restricted in ’10, limiting their movement. For some teams, the impact of this dynamic (fourth- and fifth-year guys being restricted) is greater than others. San Diego has Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles, Shawne Merriman, Marcus McNeill, among others, in that age group. Denver has Kyle Orton, Brandon Marshall, Tony Scheffler, Chris Kuper and Elvis Dumervil in that predicament. 

And that also makes it — to borrow a term here — “virtually certain” that Vince Wilfork will get the franchise tag, and it also gives each team another transition tag, although those were rendered obsolete by Steve Hutchinson and Co. a few years back.

Of course, each of the conference semifinalists will also be severely held back in their free agent activity, being permitted to sign players from outside teams after they lose one, and having additional limits on how much they can spend (dollar-for-dollar) in that regard. The flip side of that is that the free agent market will be decimated by the loss of the fourth- and fifth-year players, though the lack of a salary floor could lead to some valuable 30-somethings being dumped. But even with that in mind, this figures to be the worst group of UFAs in a long, long time.

Want more? Follow the jump, and read the league-issued Q&A on all things uncapped year:

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Q: When does the CBA expire should there be no extension to the agreement?

A: In March of 2011.

Q: Will there be a college draft in 2011?

A: Yes.

Q: What is the “Final League Year” in the current agreement?

A: The “Final League Year” is the term used in the CBA to
refer to the last year of the agreement. Without a further extension of
the CBA, the “Final League Year” would be the 2010 League Year, which
begins on March 5.

Q: What are the differences between the “Final League Year” and any other “League Year?”

A: The principal differences are that in the “Final League
Year” there is no salary cap and there are substantial additional
restrictions on player free agency and reductions in player benefits.

Q: Are current player benefits affected in the Final League Year?

A: We expect current player benefits to decline in the Final
League Year. The union agreed that in the Final League Year, clubs
would be relieved of their obligation to fund numerous benefit
programs. Examples include second career savings (401K), player
annuity, severance pay and performance-based pay. The total league-wide
contributions to such plans in 2009, the last capped year, were in
excess of $325 million or more than $10 million per club.

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Q: Are retired player benefits affected in the Final League Year?

A: Commissioner Goodell has stated in a letter to the NFL
Alumni Association Board of Directors that there will be no reduction
in pension or disability payments to retired players during the Final
League Year (2010). Since at least the fall of 2007, NFL owners have
consistently agreed and planned that they will not reduce the funding
for pension or disability benefits for retired players. Nor will they
reduce funding for the 88 Plan during the Final League Year.

Q: What determines an unrestricted free agent in the Final League Year (2010)?

A: In capped seasons, a player whose contract has expired
becomes an unrestricted free agent if he has four or more accrued
seasons. In the Final League Year (2010), a player whose contract has
expired becomes an unrestricted free agent only if he has six or more
accrued seasons. An unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any
club with no compensation owed to his old club.

Q: What determines whether a player is a restricted free agent in the “Final League Year?”

A: In capped seasons, a player whose contract expires becomes
a restricted free agent if he has three accrued seasons. In the Final
League Year (2010), a player whose contract expires becomes a
restricted free agent if he has three, four or five accrued seasons.
The first refusal/compensation rights of restricted free agents remain
unchanged in the Final League Year.

Q: In addition to the right to designate a franchise (or
transition) player each capped year, can clubs designate additional
players in the Final League Year.

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A: Yes, one additional player can be tagged. In capped years,
a club may designate a franchise player or a transition player. In the
final league year (2010), a club may designate one additional
transition player. A transition player must be offered a minimum of the
average of the top 10 salaries of the prior season at the player’s
position or 120 percent of the player’s prior year’s salary, whichever
is greater. A transition player designation gives the club a
first-refusal right to match within seven days an offer sheet given to
the player by another club after his contract expires. If the club
matches, it retains the player. If it does not match, it receives no
draft pick compensation from that club.

Q: What is the Final Eight Plan?

A: During the Final League Year, the eight clubs that make
the Divisional Playoffs in the previous season have additional
restrictions that limit their ability to sign unrestricted free agents
from other clubs. In general, the four clubs participating in the
championship games are limited in the number of free agents that they
may sign; the limit is determined by the number of their own free
agents signing with other clubs. They cannot sign any UFAs unless one
of theirs is signed by another team. For the four clubs that lost in
the Divisional Playoffs, in addition to having the ability to sign free
agents based on the number of their own free agents signing with other
clubs, they may also sign players based on specific financial
parameters. Those four only will be permitted to sign one unrestricted
free agent for $5.5 million (estimated) or more in year one of the
contract, plus the number of their UFAs who sign with another team.
They also can sign any unrestricted free agents for less than $3.7
(estimated) million in year one of the contract with limitations on the
per year increases. In the case of all final eight teams, the first
year salary of UFAs they sign to replace those lost cannot exceed the
first year salary of the player lost with limitations on the per year
increases.

Q: Is there an Entering Player Pool in the Final League Year?

A: There may be. The CBA provides that the league has the
unilateral right to keep or eliminate the rookie pool in the Final
League Year.

Q: Is there a Minimum Team Salary in the Final League Year?

A: There is no Minimum Team Salary in the Final League Year.
The Minimum Team Salary in 2009 is $107,748,000, meaning each team is
required to allocate more than $107 million to player costs (not
including benefits). The team salary cap in 2009 was $123 million.

Q: Are there individual player minimum salaries in the Final League Year?

A: Yes, but they rise at a rate somewhat slower than player minimum salaries rise in capped years.

Q: Do any player contract rules from capped years remain in place for the Final League Year?

A: Yes, some rules like the “30% increase rule” are still in
effect in the Final League Year for player contracts signed in capped
years. That rule restricts salary increases from 2009 to 2010. For
example: a player with a $500,000 salary in 2009 would be limited to
annual salary increases of $150,000 ($500,000 x 30%) beginning in 2010.