JEFF: In The Year 2011
By Jeff Falconio
So NFL owners have decided to opt out of the final two years of the collective bargaining agreement. Don't worry, there will be NFL football in 2008. 2009 as well. Then it gets interesting. As it stands now, 2010 will be an uncapped year. For a long time it was believed that without a salary cap, the small market franchises like Green Bay will crumble to the deep-pocketed likes of Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft.
So will the Packers get blown away in 2010? Not likely. If there is no new CBA by 2010 a number of provisions will kick in that will prevent the rich from getting richer. There's the Final Eight Plan, which will put a limit on the number of free agents playoff teams from 2009 can sign. Teams can use both the franchise and transition tags. Players would need six years of experience instead of four before testing the free agent waters. Of course, there's always the chance that a well-managed team like the Packers won't need to worry about loading up in free agency while still being able to compete. Heck, the Packers rarely make a splash in free agency now yet the wins have piled up over the last two years.
2011 gets a little scary. If no agreement is reached there will probably be a lockout. The salary cap isn't likely to come back and who knows what sort of provisions will be in place to protect teams like Green Bay. A few years back when the current CBA was renewed then-president Bob Harlan said no salary cap would be devastating to the Packers. Is there a reason to believe 2010 and beyond won't crush the Packers? I believe that even without a salary cap the Packers will compete in the new world order.
To begin with, there's little chance the NFL will allow owners to have unfettered access to all available free agents. The free agency season will not turn into a free-for-all for those with the most money. I'm sure Roger Goodell is very aware of how much Major League Baseball was hurt by the lack of parity throughout the 1990's. There will be provisions. Perhaps a payroll tax or an increase in the amount of players that can be tagged and protected by their current teams. Remember, a blank check doesn't guarantee wins. The New York Yankees are proving that fact right now. From an NFL prospective, consider the spring of '07. The normally-conservative New England Patriots went on a shopping spree yet despite all the wheelings-and-dealings the Pats fell shy of a Super Bowl title. For how many years did teams like Dallas, San Francisco and Washington load up in free agency only to end the season in late December instead of February? Now, there's no doubt a well-financed team would have an advantage over a small market team without some restrictions. But consider the fact that the free agent pool seems to get a bit more shallow every year. Some teams have learned that going all out in free agency isn't the best route. Will owners be willing to spend massive amounts of money on mid-level players? Teams that draft well and lock up core players early in their careers can have long term success without a salary cap. Under Ted Thompson the Packers have enjoyed success using that very model.
Both sides would be wise to get something in place before the 2011 lockout. Major League Baseball needed years and a sweep-it-under-the-rug mentality toward steroids to lure fans back. The NHL nearly disappeared off the map altogether after an entire season was wiped out. The NFL has mass appeal but fans won't wait around for a labor dispute to settle and as baseball taught us, the repercussions could be devastating. Fans may learn to tolerate the NFL without a salary cap but Sundays without football will not be acceptable.