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NFL uncapped year: one reason spending may stay tame

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Julie Jacobson/AP/File

(Read caption) Carolina Panthers' Julius Peppers (90) reacted after sacking New York Giants' Eli Manning last season. On Friday, the Chicago Bears signed the star defensive end to a contract worth $40 million over the first three years. While the end of a salary cap could cause other teams to ratchet up spending, the prospect of a strike could keep a rein on it.

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Do you feel a bit more uninhibited? In a free-wheeling mood? A lot of NFL front office types do, because as of 12:01am Friday, the NFL entered territory unseen since Bill Clinton was in the White House: no salary cap.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement between the players union and the NFL expires next year. When the current CBA was signed, both sides realized that they could have trouble agreeing the next time, and added a clause to the CBA designed to encourage the players and owners to agree to a new CBA: if a new CBA was not signed by 2010, the final season under the current CBA would be played without a salary cap. So much for that idea.

As of today, no restriction on total payroll exists in the NFL. Teams can sign all the free agents they want, at any salary they want. I imagine Redskins owner Danny Snyder felt like it was Christmas Eve. The Redskins reportedly cut $17 million in 2010 salary obligations minutes before the free agency period began, suggesting someone in Ashburn is getting ready to make some moves. The NFL has a handy sortable list of all the restricted and unrestricted free agents, if you want to do some window shopping for your favorite team.

I am not expecting many wild spending sprees. While Snyder has a reputation for spending like a drunken sailor even with a salary cap in place,the lack of a CBA beyond this season makes a significant work stoppage, and the sharp reduction in revenues that comes with a work stoppage, a real possibility. Uncertainty about the terms of the next CBA should also reduce the incentive for teams to offer free agents large long-term contracts.

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