As noted by ProFootballTalk.com and NFL.com, commissioner Roger Goodell said Sunday that a 2010 season without a salary cap is “virtually certain.”
Let’s look at how this affects the Patriots and their players, assuming the virtual certainty doesn’t change before the start of free agency March 5:
1. Left guard Logan Mankins, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and linebacker Pierre Woods are the top three players that are hurt by this. They were scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. But because unrestricted free agents must have six accrued seasons in an uncapped year –- not the four seasons in a capped year –- this will impact more than 200 players across the league. Now Mankins, Gostkowski and Woods will revert to restricted free-agent status, essentially ensuring that they will be back with the Patriots in 2010.
2. Although the Patriots can now use both the franchise tag and a transition tag on any of their unrestricted free agents (instead of one or the other), it probably won’t be a big factor for them. Other than Vince Wilfork, who is likely to receive the franchise tag if a long-term extension can’t be reached by late February, there aren’t any free-agents-to-be who are likely to be transition tagged based on the salary figures.
3. The final eight teams from the 2009 playoffs will be limited in their free-agent activity. They won’t be able to sign a free agent unless they lose one. The final four teams in the playoffs have further restrictions based on the specific dollar amounts they can designate to sign a free agent, so this narrows competition the Patriots might face in the free-agent market. On the flip side, the free-agent pool is expected to be as shallow as it has ever been.
4. There is no salary floor, which could drive down costs. The minimum team salary in 2009 was $107.7 million, which was the figure that every team was required to allocate to player costs. This could lead to a significant market correction and might be part of the Patriots' offseason strategy.
(The franchise tag is the average of the top five salaries at that position on a one-year deal. Another team can sign the player but must forfeit draft-pick compensation in the form of two first-round picks. The transition tag is the average of the top 10 salaries at the position. Another team can sign a transition player, but the original team has the right of first refusal.)