The uncertainty surrounding the Collective Bargaining Agreement has Buccaneers fans and NFL fans intrigued, as well as concerned, regarding the 2010 offseason, and rightfully so. The CBA initially was implemented in 1993 and has been negotiated and extended several times since then.
The latest CBA extension came in 2006. It was negotiated by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and former NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw. But a lot has changed over the past four years.
All 32 owners unanimously exercised their option to opt out of the CBA in 2008, leaving ‘08 and ‘09 as the final capped seasons. That means 2010 will be uncapped and there could be a possible lock out in 2011 without a new CBAâ€ˆin place.
Complicating matters is the fact that Upshaw passed away from cancer in 2008, and Tagliabue has since retired, paving the way for new NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell and new NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith have been charged with the difficult task of working through the owners' and players' issues and objectives, but that hasn't been easy.
One of the main reasons why owners opted out of the CBA last year was because of escalating player salaries, which required teams to allocate close to 60 percent of their revenue to that cost. Goodell reportedly said that player costs increased by $500 million over 2008 and '09.
The current CBA also prohibits teams from recouping guaranteed money or bonuses paid to players who breach their contracts or refuse to perform.
Owners want the players to assume more financial risk, but the players want more guarantees, especially in a profession that is considered brief and can be cut short due to serious injury, like former Bills tight end Kevin Everett, who sustained a career-ending neck injury that nearly took his life and ability to walk.
"The Commissioner has talked about the risk the owners take. We're not financially invested in ownership, so we don't face that [financial risk], but we're physically invested in this," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady told the Boston Herald. "What's the price tag for that? Ask Kevin Everett the price tag."
One thing the veteran players and NFL owners might be able to agree on is the need for slotted salaries and a cap regarding draft picks. Both sides point to quarterback Matt Stafford's $80 million contract, which included $40 million guaranteed as the number one overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. That is more guaranteed money than many proven veterans see throughout the course of their NFL careers.
But that might be the only thing the players and owners agree on at this point, and time is running out. Goodell and Smith have until March 5 to help hammer out a new CBA. The two sides recently met to discuss different aspects of the CBA, but little progress has been made. It was believed that negotiations would intensify once the 2009 regular season came to an end in January but that hasn't happened.
Although both sides claim they're prepared for an uncapped season in 2010, neither wants one because of rules put in place by the current CBA that could dramatically change the NFL as it relates to free agency.
For starters, if the 2010 season goes uncapped the Bucs will not be able to roll over any of the extra $30 million in cap space Tampa Bay currently has at its disposal. Teams will also not be required to meet minimum salary requirements, which could hinder the league's attempt to keep all 32 teams competitive.
Some have questioned how the Bucs will be impacted if 2010 winds up being an uncapped year since the Glazers are believed to be dealing with financial issues related to Manchester United, the Bucs and other entities the successful businessmen own in a challenging economic climate.
No salary cap means no salary cap floor, which means some owners will actually reduce their pay roll costs in 2010 as opposed to going on a spending spree, which is what many fans initially believed would happen in an uncapped year.
Bucs general manager Mark Dominik recently stated that the Bucs would not be big players in free agency, pointing out the fact that the team plans to build through the NFL Draft. Some believe the team's financial issues could also dictate Tampa Bay's role in free agency this year.
While the idea of having no salary cap sounds appealing on the surface, CBA rules in the uncapped year would prevent certain players from hitting the open market as originally scheduled. Only players who have six or more accrued seasons in the NFL would be eligible for free agency. That's a drastic change from previous years, which required players to only have four accrued seasons.
With so many players being restricted by their restricted free agent status with no extension of the CBA, many around the league believe those players will not participate in voluntary offseason workouts.
The Bucs players scheduled to become restricted free agents are: left tackle Donald Penn, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, linebackers Barrett Ruud, Matt McCoy and Rod Wilson and wide receivers Maurice Stoall, Brian Clark and Mark Bradley.
Teams would also have more tools at their disposal in terms of preventing players from hitting the open market. Each NFL team would have the option of using three different franchise-type tags on their own players.
In addition, no player that tests free agency in 2010 can receive an increase in salary of more than 30 percent from the previous year, which would prevent spending sprees like the ones Major League Baseball has seen with teams like the New York Yankees.
Teams that fared well in 2009 could also be at a significant disadvantage in free agency. By rule of the Final Eight Plan provision in the CBA, the eight teams that make the playoffs in the season prior to the uncapped year will have additional restrictions that limit their ability to sign other teams' unrestricted free agents.
If the 2010 season goes uncapped, the biggest consequences of such a scenario would come in 2011, which would more than likely be a work stoppage due to the expiration of the CBA. The last time a strike occurred in the NFL was back in 1987.
Even if there is a strike in 2011, the NFL still would hold a draft.
The free agent signing period is scheduled to begin at midnight on March 5. If previous negotiations are any indication of what's to come, the start of free agency could be delayed. That's what happened in 2006 when the CBA was scheduled to expire, and it could happen again, especially with so much at stake.
However, if such a delay takes place it would be mutually agreed upon by the NFL owners and players' union, which would mean both sides are serious about executing a fair CBA and playing football beyond the 2010 season. The NFLPA has already suggested to NFL owners that the league extend the CBA and its rules from 2009 to 2010 to buy both sides the time needed to hammer our a new deal.
As of right now it looks as though the NFL is headed for an uncapped year in 2010, which will increase the possibility of a work stoppage in 2011.
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