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New salary-cap rules would punish Jets for success

Leon Washington would become a restricted free agent

Leon Washington would become a restricted free agent under the new rules since he has not completed six seasons in the NFL. (October 18, 2009) Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

The Jets' unexpected run to the AFC Championship Game made the 2009 season a rousing success. But there might be a penalty for their achievement.

If, as expected, the NFL goes into the 2010 season with no salary cap, the Jets will be limited in their ability to sign unrestricted free agents during the offseason.

It's one of several changes that would go into effect if the NFL and its players union do not extend the current collective-bargaining agreement. Executives from both camps have indicated in recent weeks that it is highly unlikely an extension will be reached, meaning the following rules would go into effect:

The eight teams that made the divisional playoffs - including the Jets - would have limits placed on their ability to sign unrestricted free agents. They couldn't sign them until they lost their own unrestricted free agents. And even then, they could only sign free agents to deals equal to or less than those signed by the players they lost. (The Giants would not be restricted because they didn't make the playoffs.)

There is one important stipulation about free agents: According to a league source with knowledge of the uncapped year's rules, any team, including the final eight playoff clubs, can sign a player who is released and becomes a free agent. The restriction comes into play only for unrestricted free agents whose contracts have expired.

Unrestricted free agency moves from four years of accrued experience to six. Because of that rule, such notable players as Jets receiver Braylon Edwards and running back/kick returner Leon Washington; Broncos linebacker Elvis Dumervil and receiver Brandon Marshall, and Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans would become restricted free agents because they have not completed six NFL seasons. Their teams could tender contracts to protect them from being signed by other clubs.

There would be no limit on how much teams can spend on salaries, and no minimum, either. When a salary cap is in effect, teams must adhere to a maximum and a minimum. In 2009, the cap was $128 million per team. The floor was $111 million, meaning even lower-paying teams still had to spend a minimum. It is expected that many traditionally frugal teams will lower salaries, some of them drastically, next season.

Two players per team would be eligible to receive a "transition tag." A transition player must be offered at least the average of the top 10 salaries for his position during the previous season, or 120 percent of his salary the previous year, whichever is greater.

The NFL would eliminate a supplemental revenue-sharing plan. The program, valued between $100 million and $200 million, involves the top 15 revenue-producing teams placing money into a pool from which the lower-income clubs can draw. Nine franchises qualified to receive the funds last year, according to the league.

The 32 teams no longer would be obligated to fund many player-benefit programs, including 401k, player annuity, severance pay and tuition assistance. The reduction could reach more than $7 million per team.

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