No salary cap sounds great for the players right? Wrong. It's a nightmare. The salary cap is a part of the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement. Here are a couple of other things that change when the latest CBA expires:
1. Free agency eligibility - right now a player with 4 years experience is eligible for free agency. Any player not drafted in the 1st round signs a three or four year contract in the NFL. They play for very little money (NFL little) and they wait for that 4th year of free agency eligibility. Even average players (see Chris Kemoeatu) become instant millionaires after the 4th year.
When the CBA expires free agency will revert back to it's previous status. A player must wait until his 6th year to become a free agent. That means guys like Cortland Finnegan, Eric Wright, D'Qwell Jackson, DeMeco Ryans, Owen Daniels Brandon Marshall, Leon Washington and Antoine Bethea will be forced to play two additional years before they can strike it rich. After watching Dominique Foxworth sign a $27M contract as a backup how do you think Eric Wright and Cortland Finnegan will vote when it comes to the next agreement?
2. The expiration of the CBA also eliminates the salary "floor". Right now every team must spend 111 million (87.6 percent of the cap). For every Dan Snyder there is a Mike Brown. With the current economic situation I'm willing to bet more teams will end up below 111M than above it making less money available to the players.
3. Under the current agreement teams have a choice of using the Franchise Tag or the Transition Tag. If it expires teams will have use of three tags (1 franchise and 2 transition). The 2010 Browns will have three defensive starters from the 2006 draft (Wright, Jackson and McDonald). After the CBA expires not only will these three guys have to wait an additional two years to reach free agency but they then could all three get tagged in 2012.
4. The expiration of the CBA also renews the "Final Eight Rule". I'm going to copy and paste this one from Pat Kirwan ...
The rule will restrict the final eight teams in the playoffs from signing free agents. The final four teams shall not be permitted to negotiate and sign any unrestricted free agent to a player contract except for players who acquired their status by being cut or were on the final four team when their contract expired. Playoff teams five thru eight get a break to sign one player with a salary of $4,925,000 or more and any number of players with a first-year salary of no more than $3,275,000 and an annual increase of no more than 30 percent in the following years.
The bottom line is this. The expiration of the CBA is bad for the league but it's much worse for the players than the owners (otherwise the owners wouldn't have opted out). The 6 year rule for free agency will handicap approximately 170 players and the Franchise / Transition tag could theoretically lock up another 96 players.
There is also the expiration of the NFL draft which is a whole other topic. The players and owners will reach an agreement. It's in both of their interests to do so.