I know that the Cardinals are in the midst of a tightening run for the playoffs but I like to step back from time to time and look at the big picture. Here is one forward glance at this off season and Free Agency and the likely uncapped year.
The players association and the league have until March 2010 to agree upon a new Collective Bargain Agreement (CBA) or 2010 will be an uncapped year. I still think there is at least a minimal chance that an agreement will be worked out before then, but the odds are not good. An uncapped year has conjured the image of free agents being chased by owners with buckets of money. Karlos Dansby certainly seems to be hoping to find his pot of gold. Yet the terms for an uncapped year under the current CBA could quite likely bring the opposite effect. There are several rules that are built into the 2010 uncapped year that will drastically affect free agency and the Cardinals. Here are a few details in an uncapped year that I thought especially noteworthy.
In the current CBA we are all aware of a salary cap. What many do not know is that there is also a salary floor as well. Teams are required to spend a certain amount on payroll. An uncapped year not only means that the cap will be gone but also that the floor will also be gone. Thus teams who want to dump salary and live on the cheep will be able to do so. This will likely flood the market with released players who are over paid and under performing. Couple this with teams who now do not have to worry about spending money to keep their payroll above the minimum and it becomes a buyer's market really fast. Teams may find declining veterans on the cheep and players who were hoping for a big payoff may be disappointed. For sure, Washington, or some other like-minded owner will pay somebody but I think it will be a buyer's market.
Normally early-round draftees can become an unrestricted free agent after their 4th year. Under the CBA an uncapped year changes the rules and players cannot become unrestricted until they have been in the league for 6 years. Again this favors the owners who now have rights to quality players for another two years, and decreasing their FA needs.
The final four playoff teams in each conference will only be able to sign one FA for each FA lost. In other words if the Cards finish as one of the final four in the NFC and if they decide to cut Rolle they could not replace his position with a FA (because he is not a FA in 2010) unless they replace another cut FA with someone currently on the roster or a rookie.
Teams also gain an additional franchise tag and transition tag to use give teams more latitude.
One other point worth noting that is not directly connected to the current CBA but appears to be a side affect of an anticipated future CBA. There will likely be salary restrictions of some sort for early 1st round rookies in any future CBA. The owners have made that one of their keys issues. No more Ryan-type of money for rookies who have never played a down in the NFL. With that assumption out there, talented college players will likely enter the draft early hoping to get a better pay check before the new rules kick in. This will make for a strong draft and allow owners to feel less need to keep a declining veteran.
When you sum all of this up it appears to be a really bad year for a player who is hoping to get a Haynesworth-type pay day. That is why I think the PA is motivated, if not hopeful, to get a CBA in place before March. It is also why I think that there is a good chance that Dansby will end up resigning with the Cards after he realizes the pot of gold isn't out there.
All of that said, how will an uncapped year impact the Cardinals 2010 off season? I listed the players that would still be FA and a few other key off-season issues the Cardinals will have to deal with. I tried to list them in the order I thought most important.
1- Ken Whizenhunt: I know this is not directly related to an uncapped year but...Whiz will be in the final year of his 4 year contract. A lucrative extension should be a for-gone conclusion. Pay the man!
2- Neil Rackers: Neil will be a FA in 2010. The Cardinals have to resign him. He is one of the most consistent kickers in the NFL.
3- Antrel Rolle: His contract has him potentially getting paid over 10 mil in 2010. Not going to happen. The contract was written to force the Cards to renegotiate with him and it will do just that. Based on his play thus far, I would find a way to resign him for several more years, but it is not worth over paying him. Ware (hopefully) and R. Johnson are in the wings if Rolle will not renegotiate. I am not convinced he would find a pot of gold if the Cardinals cut him.
4- Karlos Dansby: I think there is still a 50% chance he will resign. The uncapped year may not be as kind to Dansby as he hopes. A fair deal from the Cards and a few weeks on the market may convince Dansby the grass is greenest in Arizona. If not, I am not hitting the panic button although there is no heir-apparent on the roster.
5- Monte Beisel: Speaking of depth at LB... another year or two for Beisel would be good. He is a solid vet who can provide depth at ILB and OLB. I do not think Highsmith will be on the 2010 squad.
6- Matt Ware: May be the most versatile back-up in the secondary. Especially if Rolle is cut, Ware needs to be resigned.
7- Chike Okeafar: A chronic bad back is a sign of a career in decline. Still he is a solid OLB and I would like to keep him around for security until the young crop of OLB are ready, although W. Davis has shown promise. A 1 yr contract would be good and should be at the vet min.
8- Bryan Robinson: Great veteran leader but 2009 may be his last year. I would not oppose a 1 year contract if all parties can be benefited. There are a handful of quality NT in the 2010 draft... With Branch emerging and Watson still in the fold one wonders if there will be room for Robinson in 2010. The draft may impact this decision more than anything
9- Jerheme Urban: Looks like he has fallen to the 5th receiver, still I think the Cardinals will want to resign him especially if Boldin is traded, but he may look for a more prominent position on another team. Onrea Jones is still waiting in the wings and this should be a deep WR draft.
10- Anquan Boldin:... What to do? Cards will offer a fair-market-value deal. Boldin will be offended and feel like he got the shaft right in the back. Cards will shop him leading up to the Draft although they will not say it publically. In the end they will get a 2nd and 5th pick or maybe a future 1st. The pundits will have a field day about how the Cards could have gotten more for him in 2009 if they had been willing to negotiate. Yet if the draft shapes up to be as strong as it is looking, a couple of middle round picks for Boldin would be a great deal. Personally, I think Boldin would be wise to take a 3-4 year deal with the Cards, get paid for what he is worth, and be happy to be playing in the desert. Life isn't always better elsewhere.
11- Anthony Becht: I think he is worth another 1 year contract. He is average but for the Cardinals, average seems to be acceptable at TE. Vet min.
12- Jeremy Bridges: If affordable then he might get another year. It depends on whether Grimm feels H. Johnson could fill his utility OL role. (I am assuming Keith at RT and L Brown at LT in 2010) Vet min if resigned but there will likely be value during FA for an OL role player.
13- Dan Kreider: Kreider is not this low in priority because he hasn't played well, he just isn't an impact player and the team has options at this position. I think he will get another 1 year contract but remember Green's rights are still owned by the Cardinals so it isn't a forgone conclusion Kreider will return.
14- Ralph Brown: Not a Ralph Brown fan. Toler and Adams can serve this role. I wouldn't be surprised if cards pick up another corner in the draft. Don't resign until near the end of FA and after draft and then only if absolutely needed.
15- Mike Gandy: Probably the most verbally abused player by the fans and bloggers on the Cards 2009 roster. In all fairness to Gandy he has been left on an island often. He is an average tackle blocking against good-great speed rushers. Consequently he has looked bad. It appears that his days in Arizona are done, but who is the heir-apparent? The draft may produce an eventual starter but few rookies right out of the draft could do better than Gandy has done so... could the Cards resign Gandy for cheep? Unlikely. I think the Cards will move L. Brown to LT and insert Keith into the RT. This shift begins the change to a Leinart led offense.
16- Bertrand Berry: He might get another year but my guess is he will not be with the Cardinals at the start of 2010 season. Father time is catching up with the B-train
17- Brian St. Pierre: He'll be gone. He will want to try someplace else, and the Cardinals will want to start to develop a new backup to Leinart.