New era in NFL free agency begins today

By Rob Todor

Associated Press


The NFL has swallowed the poison pill.

When the league and the players association reached a new collective bargaining agreement in 2006, a clause called for eliminating the salary cap in 2010. Both sides assumed an uncapped season would be so distasteful that a new contract would be finalized long before the cap disappeared.

Even when the owners opted out of the CBA in 2008, little thought was given to an actual removal of the salary cap that generally has been beneficial for both owners and players.

Today, pro football’s salary cap dies. Free agency begins under a whole new set of rules, and no one is sure where it will lead — perhaps even to a work stoppage in 2011.

“The situation we’re walking into is certainly unknown for everyone,” Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik says. “So no one can really look at the crystal ball and say here’s what people are going to spend and here’s what people aren’t going to spend. It’s all pure speculation.”

Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based consulting company Sports Corp. Ltd., thinks teams will be tightfisted.

“That’s one of the possibilities in the uncapped season, will some teams be spending far below the current floor, especially teams that perform poorly on the field?” says Ganis. “Teams will have the option of spending the amount on their team that they think it is worth. A 4-12 team does not have the caliber players a consistently 12-4 team has.

“I expect the small and midsize market clubs are going to start to pay in this uncapped year based on what they can afford.”

But sports agent Joe Linta, who represents Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco among others, is optimistic the pocketbooks will remain open. His thoughts echo those by many of his colleagues:

“The owners are all wealthy,” Linta says, “and as much as they need and want to make money, the need to win is greater than the need to make money — they already have plenty. Their insatiable desire to win will override their greed to save and make money. So, yeah, they’ll spend.”

Some can spend more than others. But the crop of unrestricted free agents contains few difference makers and is inferior to the group of restricted free agents.

Under the CBA that expires next March, the top conference semifinalists from January’s playoffs have extra restrictions in signing free agents. The final four, for example, must lose an unrestricted free agent (UFA) before they can sign one.

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