Free agent frenzy underway for newly uncapped NFL

first_imgWhat were you doing last night?While your Thirsty Thursday hijinks may have you struggling to remember the night’s activities, NFL teams and agents surely know what they were doing — kick-starting the free agency period.At midnight, the NFL offseason officially entered free agency, as it does every year once the scouting combine ends. However, unlike other years, the 2010 free agency promises to be much different.This year, for the first time since 1993, the NFL will have no salary cap. Although the methodology and reasoning behind the elimination of the cap could by itself warrant its own column by someone with actual legal knowledge, here’s the jist of the situation.Every Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated between the NFL and the players’ union in recent memory has included a final year in which the salary cap will be removed. The goal of the scheduled disappearance of the cap was to encourage the league and the union to work out a new CBA one year before the current one expires.However, the two sides have failed to do so. With no deal in place and the owners unanimously having voted back in May 2008 to end the agreement two years early, the 2010 league year is left without a salary cap.With owners like Al Davis, Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder still roaming the NFL landscape, some believe teams will be unable to resist the urge to break open their piggybanks and splurge this offseason. However, more conventional wisdom indicates that teams will instead implement self-imposed budgets to control their spending.Furthermore, the removal of the salary cap also brings about the absence of a salary floor, meaning teams can spend as little as they want (while still adhering to minimum salary regulations). As a result, look for typically frugal franchises like the Buccaneers to continue to hide their checkbooks.Tired of this boring legal stuff? Just one more thing. In an uncapped year such as 2010, the CBA indicates players must have six years of playing experience to become unrestricted free agents, rather than the usual four. As a result, players like Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman who have four or five years under their belts are forced into restricted free agency, allowing their teams to apply RFA tenders in an attempt to keep them on the roster. As a result, the 2010 unrestricted free agent class has been diluted, further pushing teams to demonstrate financial restraint.Enough of that legal stuff; I’ve probably already lost most of my readers anyway. Let’s get into the stuff people actually care about.Eight years ago, Julius Peppers entered the NFL as a super-athletic defensive end from UNC. The 6-foot-7, 293 pound Peppers also exhibited his athletic prowess on the hardwood, playing a significant reserve role for the Tar Heels. After eight seasons in the NFL, Peppers has averaged more than 10 sacks per season, recording only two seasons with less than double-digit sack numbers.Last offseason, though, Peppers announced his refusal to sign a long-term deal with Carolina, stating his desire to play for a 3-4 defense and switch to outside linebacker. After rampant rumors of a trade in the works, potentially with New England, Peppers was given the franchise tag and remained in a Panthers uniform for the 2009-10 season, notching 10.5 sacks and 40 tackles.In February, the Panthers announced they would not tag Peppers again, making the defensive end this year’s biggest free agent prize. While there’s a chance Peppers could already be signed by the time this column is printed — with a midnight signing, ? la Albert Haynesworth a year ago — look for a few teams to enter the fray for Peppers and potentially instigating a bidding war.While Snyder’s Redskins were initially viewed as potential candidates, new GM Bruce Allen likely will push for more savvy, lower-scale moves. Instead, Chicago seems to be a possible destination, as the Bears look to rebound from last year’s 7-9 campaign. Out west, the Seahawks could prove to be Peppers’ landing spot, as deep pockets owner Paul Allen might look to make a big splash, especially with superstar college coach Pete Carroll joining the franchise.Joining Peppers as highlights of the free agent class is a collection of aging, recently released running backs in LaDanian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook and Thomas Jones, as well a larger list of intriguing defensive players, such as linebacker Karlos Dansby and defensive lineman Aaron Kampman.Tomlinson may be the most attractive of the bunch, as the former MVP’s tearful farewell press conference in San Diego proved he still has the passion to play. Despite passing the proverbial running back hill that comes at 30 years of age — Tomlinson will be 31 by the time the season starts — LT has been the running back of the decade, and could find success again in a secondary role in a two-back system, such as in Pittsburgh behind incumbent Rashard Mendenhall.Again, this free agency period will be unlike any other in recent history. Along with the uncertainty regarding how much spending to expect, there could be an increase in trades, as cap penalties will no longer come into play. Either way, there will be much to follow as free agency kicks into gear, and among March Madness and baseball spring training heating up, the NFL will still find itself stealing a bit of the national sports spotlight — great news for football fans across the nation.Mike is a sophomore planning on majoring in journalism. Enticed by free agency? Let him know at [email protected]last_img

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