I thought we'd take this afternoon to get a little bit of a break from hating most of the coaching staff and all of the front office to talk about a big-picture item that everyone's heard something about, but not everyone really understands the impact of.
There's a lot of talk lately about what happens if 2010 is truly a cap-free year, and what happens if there's a lockout in '11. While the lockout is a beast altogether, there are several ways the lack of a cap could really affect the league. While this is not the most in-depth review of the subject you'll see, I've tried to cover a lot of bases. (Side Note: Have you ever tried reading the collective bargaining agreement? It is simultaneously the most boring, yet somehow interesting, yet frustrating document I've ever attempted to read.)
Let's take a look at how it affects some groups in the NFL, and our beloved Bears, after the jump...
Generally speaking, Rookies can stand to lose pretty big. In an uncapped year, owners will be particularly hesitant to shell out big-time cash to college studs who are unproven in the NFL. Given the lack of overall first round reliability (see: Ki-Jana Carter, Ryan Leaf, Cedric Benson, many, many others) owners would much rather pay the extra money for proven talent. That being said, it can affect rookies multiple ways. The obvious, it takes away their potential to earn the big bucks, reducing the salaries they may have gotten in recent years past. They can't demand the big bucks the way Michael Crabtree did, because the first few signs of refusal will cause teams to look elsewhere. Those who think they might not get picked in the first place may continue their education and not declare altogether.
The item that's often not mentioned is that, while the money's out there and getting good, elite juniors may skip their senior year, and try to grab while the grabbing's good. This could work out for them, especially as the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is likely to include a rookie salary cap. In an uncapped year, the "slotting" system of the draft, where the biggest money goes to the earliest picks, could go out the window. You could get a guy at pick #4 getting paid more than the guy at #1. While I'm sure this would blow everyone's mind, it's definitely possible.
Free agents get bit in numerous ways. On one hand, those who are truly unrestricted free agents stand to possibly make a huge payday. The problem with that is the uncapped year rules states that free agents have to have six years in, instead of four. That is to say, truly unrestricted free agents have to have accrued six years in the league before they can go anywhere they want. Otherwise, free agents will be restricted, allowing teams right of first refusal for many players. This still causes the lingering problem--teams can offer the restricted free agent whatever they want, and if a team wants to retain it's top talent, it may have to pay to match, which isn't something a lot of teams will want to do. (There's a team in Chicago that doesn't like to spend money that springs to mind.) This could hurt some teams.
Realistically, what is much more likely, though, and something people don't realize--a lot of owners will like the idea of cutting payroll. During the uncapped year there's not a minimum or maximum. Most people realize there's no maximum, but few realize that there is no minimum. It's highly possible that the windfall of ridiculous payments to players doesn't happen.
In addition, teams would get to use an additional two "tags" during the uncapped year. This will reduce the free agent pool as teams can lock down an extra player at average salaries for their position. This will lead to young guys who signed four or five year deals not making it to unrestricted, and older veterans getting "tagged."
In other words, the free agent pool should be much smaller in an uncapped year.
Owners can actually stand to benefit some, but not much. It's not a secret that many rosters are full of average-quality players who make too much money. These are the biggest hindrances of the salary cap--be they veterans whose skills have diminished(Olin Kreutz?), or guys who had a few good years, got the big deal(*cough* Tommie Harris *cough*), and then went downhill. (Or got the big deal and busted right away....Cedric)
Owners will likely look to be reducing roster pay, and implementing their own personal "caps". These limits they impose could be much lower than the limits now. Older, injury prone veterans stand to lose a lot, and be nearly unsignable, as teams won't want to pay the big contracts, and can't handle the liability that big up-front contracts cover.
The other benefit to the uncapped year is the ability to dump salary counting against the cap. If they have a player who's scheduled to hit large against the cap, but only have a small guaranteed amount, this is the time they'd be able to dump them without having to take the big hit. This could be the key for some teams to get rid of their albatross. (Also known as "Jamarcus Russell")
This isn't to say that there will be no team that goes spending crazy--someone likely will.(I'm looking at you, NFC East). Just that there's a chance that shelling out tons of cash isn't going to get them anywhere.
Finally, fans don't get a fair shake, either. The chances are good that small market, cost-conscious teams could easily field some inferior teams to cut payroll. That's just not fun. In addition the general loss of talent and personnel shift could keep teams from being able to improve themselves even if they want to.
This part is completely open to debate. In a time like this, it could be the time the Bears step to the forefront and try to fix some problems. It could be the time they try to improve the bottom line. I'd put more hypotheses here, but honestly, every time I think I know what this franchise does, it does something that either confuses me to the point of anger, or puts some kind of false hope in me.
I haven't covered all of the ramifications here, as the "final 8" plan could take a whole post by itself(It's the way that they keep the playoff teams from making themselves even better), but this can help you guide yourself, as you're going to start to hear about this more and more when the season ends. It could very well become a moot point, but it's worth discussing, and a nice distraction from the inept, lackluster, heartless play on the field lately.