Note: The cuts are coming fast and furiously tonight. Trevor Pryce, Mike Anderson, Jeb Putzier, Brentson Buckner, Stephen Davis, Sam Madison, Tebucky Jones and Lawyer Milloy have gotten their pink slips. Rumors are swirling that LaVar Arrington, Steve McNair and Brett Favre could get their walking papers Friday. That means no new CBA is coming. So, here goes.
I hated the salary cap. I remember watching helplessly in the summer of 1994 as the NFL launched a preemptive strike against the emerging Cowboys dynasty. Mark Stepnoski, Ken Norton Jr., Jimmie Jones and Tony Casillas, among others, fled for bigger salaries. It wasn't that Jerry Jones couldn't afford them. He was not allowed to keep them, because salaries were not capped.
The Cowboys were, in effect, punished for drafting too well. Jimmy Johnson's vaunted eight man defensive line rotation of Charles Haley, Casillas, Russell Maryland, Tony Tolbert, Jones, Chad Hennings, Leon Lett and Jim Jeffcoat was stripped by half in just two years. The team Mike Shanahan said would have won five Super Bowls without the cap never got the chance to dominate as the 49ers, Steelers and Packers had in previous decades. The Cowboys were the league's youngest team when the snagged the Lombardi Trophy in January 1993. Just three years later their run was over.
Now, as the Cowboys are progressing with their first significant rebuilding effort since those salad days the rules may be changing in the team's favor. I've become so accustomed to the cap system that I've ceased to question it. Today, however, some wise posters suggested that maybe a world without a cap and a draft isn't such a bad thing. After thinking it over, I believe they might be right. Football Doomsday is not upon us. On the other hand, a new Dallas Doomsday Defense may be. Here is what a cap-free world might look like:
-- (Almost) Nobody will be a free agent: We're used to having the cap serve as a spur towards free agency. When a role-playing older veteran's salary rises too high, you cut him. If you have too much talent at a position, you choose the better player and let the other one go. Without a cap, these decisions are gone. What's more, the service limit for free agency will rise from four to six years. Teams will get a longer time to assess a player's worth. They will also have more time to exploit a quality player's best years.
In any case, the only reason a player will leave is because he has friction with the team or for personal reasons, like wanting to play close to home. If you're good, and your team is willing to pay you a reasonable salary, you're not going anywhere.
This, over time, will improve the quality of league play. Teams will again be able to assemble and retain a quality offensive line, defensive line, secondary, etc.
The Cowboys stand to benefit from this new reality. Terrence Newman, Roy Williams, Bradie James and Jason Witten will be up for new contracts in the next year. Under the old system, Dallas might have to let one go. Now, they're certain to stay.
-- For the next two years, there will be almost no trades involving draft picks: If the draft is indeed abolished in 2008, this year and next year are the last chances teams are guaranteed college players to improve their rosters. You should therefore expect no trades of players for picks, or at least far fewer than years past. That could spell the end of LaRoi Glover's time in Dallas, unless he agrees to a pay cut. He might have had good value years ago, but not in the pre-capless world. On the other hand...
-- Starting in 2008, trades will mushroom: If the number of free agents available slows to a trickle in 2007 and after, and there is no draft, the only guaranteed way to fill a hole is by swapping. Say you're a wide receiver, or a cornerback short of a Super Bowl run. You can go out and bid a fortune on a rookie, but there's no guarantee you'll get him or that he'll satisfy your team's need. If you're serious, you'll fill the hole with a trade.
The draft may be gone, but the NFL might finally turn into a real life version of fantasy ball. We might again see something approaching baseball's hot-stove league, where offseason trades abound. Instead of waiting for free agency, we may look forward to the "spring meetings" where trades are worked out. The Combine, which will probably survive, since teams will still scout college talent, is the likely place for such a swapmeet.
-- Teams with the best young cores of talent will be best positioned to win, since there will be little risk they'll be dismantled by anything except injuries:
Take a good look at the defense. There's Chris Canty, Marcus Spears, Jay Ratliff, Bradie James, Demarcus Ware, Terrence Newman, Roy Williams, Anthony Henry and Jacques Reeves. If the NFL goes uncapped, they're not going anywhere, unless Dallas wants them to leave. If Bill Parcells can get a young NT and OLB to finish his project, we may get to experience Doomsday our father's way, when he knew Bob Lilly and his crew would play together until they faded.
So recall Major Kong, tell the Russian Premier to Kissoff and get Colonel Jack D. Ripper to take a pill. The world won't end without a new CBA. The fun, in fact, could just be beginning.