Reference Guide for 2010 NFL Offseason

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Reference Guide for 2010 NFL Offseason Most football fans focus all their energy on the events that take place between the white lines. When it comes to contracts and collective bargaining agreements, it's easy for those who love hard hits to let their eyes gloss over in boredom.

That's understandable, but the fact remains that the NFL, while its product is a game, is a wildly successful business. Though most of that business won?t bring the same kind of excitement that the league offers from 1-11 p.m. on Sundays, it's important to understand the process. So while you won't be expected to memorize all 301 pages of the collective bargaining agreement word for word, here are some key terms that will be thrown about over the next seven months in anticipation of the 2010 season.

Uncapped year
NFL teams operate under a salary cap, which is determined by league revenue. In 2009, the most teams could spend on their roster was $128 million. This year, if a new labor deal is not agreed upon by March 5 (which it won't), there will be no salary cap.

One implication of this is that a number of players will miss out on free agency. The 2005 rookie class that signed five-year deals and the 2006 rookie class that signed four-year deals will become restricted free agents this offseason, as opposed to unrestricted.

This is the pivotal point in the NFL's offseason. Nobody knows how a lack of salary cap will affect owners, GMs and free agents. It could be a spending frenzy, or it could limit spending.

Coaches and executives who have been around the game for a long time have stated on numerous occasions that the league is in a position that it's never been in before. It's hard to say how exactly the change will impact the league.

Unrestricted free agent
Normally, a UFA is a player with four or more years of NFL playing time who can sign with any team. That will change in an uncapped year, instead requiring a player to have six years of NFL experience before reaching unrestricted free agency. That changes the status of 212 players, according to The Associated Press. The players affected become restricted free agents for the 2010 season.

Restricted free agent
A restricted free agent can receive a qualifying offer from their current teams and then negotiate with other teams. Should another team make an offer, the current team has the opportunity to match the offer. If the current team does not match, it will receive compensation from the new team.

That compensation varies, depending on the qualifying offer made. If a team places the highest qualifying offer possible on a player, then any team that signs that player will have to give a first- and third-round pick. The scale lessens from there.

Final eight rule
Of the 32 teams in the NFL, only 24 will be able to sign free agents this offseason with no limitations. That's because of the "final eight rule" installed in the current CBA.

The four teams that made it to the conference championships (Minnesota, New Orleans, Indianapolis, New York Jets) can only sign an unrestricted free agent if they have lost one themselves.
The next four teams (Dallas, Arizona, San Diego, Baltimore) have a bit more freedom, as they are able to sign a free agent with a salary of $4.925 million or more or free agents with first-year salaries of $3.275 million or less.

In the case of all eight teams, the UFA signed cannot have a first-year salary that exceeds the first-year salary of the player lost, and they are also limitations on how much the contract can increase per year.

It should be noted that the rule does not apply to players that have been waived. This rule only goes into effect if there is an uncapped year, which commissioner Roger Goodell has said is "virtually certain."

Franchise tag
This one hasn't changed. A team can place the franchise tag on any player that is headed toward free agency. In doing so, they guarantee that player the average of the five highest-paid players at that position, or a 20 percent raise from his salary the previous year — whichever is higher.

Teams can only designate one player with the franchise tag and can only place the franchise tag on a player for two consecutive seasons, and the second season must include a 20 percent raise.

There are two types of franchise tags: exclusive and non-exclusive. The exclusive tag limits the player to play for his current team. The non-exclusive tag allows the player to field offers from other teams. If the current team matches the offer, that player is required to play for his current team. If the current team does not match, then the team that made the offer must give up two first-round picks to the team for which the player formerly played.

Transition tag

The cousin of the franchise tag, the transition tag can only be used by a team if it does not place the franchise tag on a player. It's one or the other. It gives the player a one-year contract, valued at the average of the top 10 players at his position. That player can receive offers from other teams, but his current team has the option to match the offer.  If the team doesn't match, it loses the player and receives no compensation.

To follow the latest in the ongoing labor situation, fans can visit NFLLabor.com.

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