The end of the NFL as we know it

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Will football be played in September? Yes.

Will the NFL ever be the same again? A better question.

At the stroke of midnight tonight, the 2010 league year will begin, and the salary cap that was installed in 1994 will be eliminated. And so, as so many league people have said in the last few weeks, pro football drifts into “uncharted waters”.

The cap originally went in at $34.6 million. It goes out at $128 million, or 370 percent of the original figure. It reflects the growth of the league — through new stadiums, bloated television deals, the introduction of satellite broadcasting, the birth of a new in-house network, and advancement of merchandising — and also, in the owners’ minds, the outgrowth of player compensation.

Of course, the union disagrees, and thinks its cut of the pie is fair, and that’s at the heart of the problems we have now. The disappearance of the cap is just the start of it.

The salary floor is gone ($107.7 million in ’09), and that means there’s a chance a proletariat class of team could emerge this offseason. As you guys know, all the fourth- and fifth-year players who would be unrestricted free agents in the old system will be restricted (with the exception of those who are not tendered), and teams are relieved of their obligations to pay players certain benefits.

So let’s just say that with everyone tossed into this “Wild West” atmosphere, the next few days should be mighty interesting.


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