so much for that
The NFL Uncapped Year & Donovan Warren
With Donovan Warren’s announcement that he was leaning toward entering the NFL Draft, I thought I would try to understand a major variable I’m sure he’s considering when making his decision, the Uncapped Year.
The potential of a 2010 uncapped year in the NFL will have many college underclassmen considering the draft this year. I’ve seen several mock drafts that include names like Ryan Mallett, Jevan Snead, and Terrell Pryor just because of the possible payday.
There are two big reasons that underclass players, even those mentioned above, would be wise to consider the draft this season:
First, it may be hard to believe when Matt Stafford gets $72 million before he throws a pass, but the NFL currently has a rookie salary cap as a result of the 2006 CBA. The league-wide salary cap rises each year as league revenues increase, when this happens, the Rookie Cap rises too. However, if 2010 is an uncapped year then the rookies won’t be subject to a cap either, so regardless of where a player is selected he can try to break the bank.
Second, and more motivating than no cap in 2010, is the possible lockout in 2011. If the NFL can’t agree to extend the collective bargaining before 2011 then the owners will lock out the players. This would mean incoming rookies wouldn’t get paid anything until the league settles on a new system. Any new system would likely include a rookie salary slotting system similar to the NBA, which would limit rookie pay in their first contract. A smart player would want to get under contract now to not only avoid the slotting system but also to begin earning time toward free agency.
If you are interested in the business of sports, the issues surrounding the NFL’s cap future can be fascinating. You would assume that an uncapped year would appeal to the players, since they would be able to command high salaries. The truth is the league has put restrictions in the contract to prevent a free agent period of drunken spending.
1) In 2010, free agency will require six years of service instead of four years, so many of the players who could take advantage of the uncapped year will be stuck in their original contracts.
2) Teams will have three tags to use to restrict free agents. Currently, a team can use either a franchise tag (average of the top five salaries at a position) or a transition tag (average of the top ten salaries at a position) on any one player on the club to protect the team from losing the unrestricted free agent. If the NFL has an uncapped year in 2010, teams will have use of one franchise tag and two transition tags. So the top three players who are eligible for free agency on a roster can be protected.
3) Teams that go deep in the playoffs will have free agent signing restrictions. According to Article XIX of the CBA titled "The Final Eight Plan", The four teams that make the league championship games can't sign an unrestricted free agent unless and until they lose one of equal or more value; the four losing teams in the divisional round can sign only one high-priced unrestricted free agent without having to lose one of their own. Once that maximum exception is burned, they are restricted like the top four teams. But they can sign as many mid-level free agents as they want.
As you can see, it is unlikely that an uncapped year will lead to a spending spree since few of the best players will be available, and 25% of the teams in the league will be limited if they pursue top free agents. Chances are the free agent pool will be filled with over-rated castoffs and over-the-hill stars; not the kind of players you can build a championship team with. Especially if they may not even play in 2011.
In reality, the NFL Players Association is trying hardest to negotiate a new contract before the March deadline because they’re afraid of the ramifications.
The NFLPA believes that the owners are going to use the uncapped year to clean up their books. With no salary cap, there will also be no minimum salary. Right now, teams are forced to spend at least 85% of the salary cap. With no cap teams could cut players with bad contracts without a cap hit and without a minimum team salary requirement owners could keep salaries low for the season to build up cash reserves in anticipation of the 2011 lockout.
It looks like the owners have created a great deal of leverage to negotiate the next new contract. They will use the uncapped year to get out of bad contracts and save money, while locking in their best players. Then they will threaten the lockout to get the NFLPA to sign a new deal for 2011.
As Michigan fans, we should hope that a new long-term agreement is reached before the draft. We should also hope that it includes salary slotting so that Donovan will be motivated to return to improve his draft stock.
As NFL fans, we should root for a strong, capped league without a lockout.