The NFL's "Final Eight" Rule and What It Means for Your Team

Zack NallyCorrespondent IJanuary 14, 2010

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 03: National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell arrives to testify on Capitol Hill on November 3, 2009 in Washington, DC. The hearing focused on doping in professional sports.(Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

The NFL and the NFLPA's collective bargaining agreement has come to an end, momentarily, and with that comes an uncapped 2010 season. 

For those unfamiliar with how the salary cap works, it's essentially a limit on how much each NFL team can spend on players and coaches.

That limit is established by averaging out the collective profits of each team. 

Those profits can be from a number of outlets, including discretionary funds, profits that come directly from commercial advertising, and whatever the organization earns from ticket sales and other sources. 

The salary cap was set down to protect small-market teams from being eliminated from the possibility of making the playoffs and remaining competitive by having the resources to sign big contracts and attract skill players that would have otherwise disregarded them. 

Now that the salary cap has been lifted for the 2010 season, there is a fear that deep-pocketed owners like Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder will have the ability to "buy" a championship. Well, that's only half true.

In anticipation of a failed CBA agreement, the NFL set down "triggers" to prevent big-market teams from taking advantage of the absence of a cap limit. 

The first is forcing young players to remain with their original teams for a longer period of time. Typically, in a capped year, a rookie is signed to a four-year contract, and when that contract expires, he can opt for free agency. Now, players must remain with their teams for six years until they can be eligible for the market.

Even if a player's contract has expired, he will have to sign a temporary, two-year minimum contract to remain with that team. There are several drawbacks to this trigger.

One, this will ultimately eliminate more than half of the free agent market. Two, the young guys who are approaching the point of their careers where they sign their big-money second contracts will have to wait two more years. Some positions take a heavy toll on young bodies early, and six years is a long time to have to wait to get paid. 

The second trigger is the addition of two transition tags to each team's contract arsenal. Before, each team had the option to slap either a franchise tag (average of the top five salaries at his position) or a transition tag (average of the top 10 salaries at his position) on a player they wished to retain when his contract has expired. 

Now, each team will have one franchise tag and two transition tags. This will only further reduce the number of players available in the free agent market. Most teams won't be employing their tags, though, due to the limited number of players on their teams that will be available for free agency. 

The third trigger will have the biggest impact. This is the "Final Eight" rule; it will extend deeper restrictions for teams that reach the final eight positions in the playoffs.

The final four teams will not be permitted to negotiate or sign any unrestricted free agent to a player contract unless he is cut from his team or originally belonged to the team that is trying to sign (or re-sign) him. 

The bottom four of the final eight have it a little easier. They will be allowed to sign only one player with a salary of $4,925,000 or more and any number of players with a first-year salary of no more than $3,275,000 with an annual increase of no more than 30 percent in the following year. 

There will be an additional mechanism to permit the final eight teams to sign an unrestricted free agent for each of the players they lose to free agency so long as they don't spend more than the player they lost earns from his new team. 

It's unclear what exactly will happen come the offseason, but it's assured that the players available in free agency will be very slim, making draft picks that much more valuable for the 2010 season. 

There is a possibility that teams boasting deep-pocketed owners, like the Washington Redskins and the Seattle Seahawks, will have an unfair advantage in an offseason without monetary limits, but these "triggers" have been set in place to prevent such an advantage. 

Thanks to the preventative measures the NFL has established, the 2010 offseason will be as fair as possible. 

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