The mere thought of playing without a salary cap in 2010 evokes images of the Wild West, anything goes to the highest bidder. Fortunately, the decision to opt out of the CBA triggered a number of rules and restrictions to keep the Cowboys from turning into the Yankees of the NFL that season. John Clayton has a nice summary over at ESPN , but here's the gist of it. Teams get an extra transition tag for a player, allowing to keep an extra fee agent along with the franchise tag. Players will need to have six years of service in the league, rather than the usual four, before they can become unrestricted free agents. That will make it easier for teams to keep their younger players via restricted free agency. And to keep the top teams from piling up the talent, teams that play for the conference championship for the '09 season won't be allowed to sign unrestricted free agents until they lose one of their own UFA, and the other, less fortunate playoff teams will face additional restrictions on free agency as well.
With the new rules, some teams are in better shape than others, as pointed out in the Clayton article. That got me curious about the Rams; how are they set when 2010 rolls around? Fortunately, the Rams are in a good spot, with only a few free potential free agent casualties.
Alex Barron - His contract with the Rams ends in 2009, but that will only be his fifth season in the league. Clearly, Barron's playing for his future this season as it is, but should he start to live up to his promise, he'd be a restricted free agent ahead of the 2010 season, meaning the Rams can tender him an offer just above his previous year's salary ($1.233 million for Barron) and get first right of refusal and a compensatory draft pick for his services. Besides, how Barron responds this season, much will depend on how John Greco develops as a potential replacement. Orlando Pace, who's under contract through 2011, probably can't be counted on in 2010, meaning the Rams will need Barron and Greco to emerge OR find another OT in the next two drafts.
Torry Holt - Holt's status as of 2010 has already received endless speculation. It's probably safe to assume that he won't be back in 2010, and use the capless year to cash in on free agency as he enters his age 33 season. The Rams expect Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton to blossom in the coming seasons to replace Holt.
Randy McMichael - Another contract that ends after 2009. McMichael will be 30 for hte 2010 season, hardly too old to contribute. Will the Rams look for TE talent in the draft before then? Their recent track record drafting TEs hasn't been spectacular, so should they?
Leonard Little - By 2010, Chris Long will be the Rams stand out DE, and they'll likely have to add another speedy pass rushing DE before the 2010 season, as Little will turn 36 early that season anyway.
Claude Wroten - Reportedly this offseason's workout warrior, the former LSU DT says he ready to get serious about the game. His contract ends after the 2009 season, but he won't have enough time in under the new rules to be an unrestricted free agent. Like Barron, the Rams can chose to tender him an offer as a restricted free agent in 2010. Just how far he comes in living up to his potential will determine what that offer is, if there's one at all.
Some of the names on this list get top billing on the marquee to be sure. Recent draftees should grow to replace two of the biggest names on the list, Holt and Little. Losing McMichael will be a concern, as he figures to be a prominent part of the Al Saunders offense. The Rams will have the option of attempting to sign him to an extension ahead of that time, competitively bid on the UFA, or seek a replacement through the draft or free agency. As for the rest of the roster, we're pretty young in the right places, particularly on defense, and have our starters under contract through the uncapped season. There will be age concerns about some of the players we do have under contract, but with two more drafts between now and then, the Rams should be able to find the next generation of talent to fill those shoes.
In between now and the 2010 free agent season the Rams will have some big contract issues to deal with. We mentioned the LT situation above, but their current candidates for center and right guard will be looking for contracts before then. Like Greco, if Roy Schuening emerges - and there are those that think he has the talent to play now - that leaves only the starting center role to be filled for 2009. There's also the 2,000 lbs gorilla in the room, Steven Jackson, who's contract expires after this season.
Still, it's refreshing to see that the Rams won't be completely SOL when the uncapped 2010 rolls around.
Don't forget to make your voice and projections heard in the great Chris Long vs. Glenn Dorsey projection showdown!