The 2010 NFL offseason - its first in 17 years without a Salary Cap - has begun and now is a week old. Two teams are setting the stage for the new NFL: In one day, the Bears committed almost 40M in 2010 cash to three players, an amount slightly above the entire payroll of the Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals. And the Washington Redskins have barely registered a blip on the radar. Welcome to the uncapped year.
When the prospect of an uncapped year started looking more and more realistic, thoughts turned to the usual suspects for spending without limits: Redskins, Cowboys, Raiders, etc. Now that we have moved through the first - and biggest spending week of the uncapped year - an unexpected team has taken the mantle of the most aggressive team in an uncapped year. It is the Chicago Bears.
First, a tight end signing, that of Brandon Manumaleuna with 6M in guaranteed money, a strong amount for a tight end not considered among the league's elite. Then came running back Chester Taylor from the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings put on the hard push, using sentimentality with players and coaches constantly calling, but Taylor decided to leave for many reasons ($7M of them). The contract is about where we predicted, with $7M guaranteed on a four-year $12.5M deal for a 30-year-old running back. What Brian Westbrook or LaDanian Tomlinson wouldn't give to make that deal!!
Then the Bears landed the kingfish of the 2010 class; they picked a (Julius) Peppers. The deal averages $13.3M with $40.5M in the first three years. The size of the deal was expected; in fact, I actually thought he would earn more (ignore reports of a total value of $91M, that is an inflated number spun out for the media).
Not that the Bears got a bargain. As I expressed before, my concern about Peppers would be his motivation. If people were wondering about his motivation when he was playing on one-year deals - the ultimate motivator in sports - handing him long-term financial security of $40M of guaranteed money is not going to alleviate that concern; rather, it will only exacerbate it.
Again, the issue of the uncapped year was whether a team or teams would engage in unfettered spending without the consequence of the Cap. Some expected the Redskins, some the Cowboys, some expected no one. And it's the Bears.
On the other side of the ledger are the perennially aggressive - or at least formerly perennially aggressive - Redskins. The offseason - and the uncapped year in 2010 - is only a week old but some have already started to notice a new mantra with the league's highest-spending team over the past decade. As someone who grew up a diehard Redskin fan, I followed the "The Future is Now" era of George Allen, with a veteran-laden team in pre-free agency football. Now Allen's son, Bruce, is developing the Redskins new philosophy, "The Future is not only now but later".
The Redskins showed surprising - and in my opinion admirable - self-restraint in the opening days of free agency, a time where they usually garner headlines. Even the courtship of Packers left tackle Chad Clifton was restrained compared to past recruiting, not offering Clifton enough to pry him away from his incumbent team.
The Redskins used to buy up big name players past their prime at above retail rates - their team in 2001 looked like a Pro Bowl squad, although from the Pro Bowl in 1996. Now they actually made a statement about the new way of doing business even prior to the bell ringing on Friday. I thought that the long list of players released on Thursday, many of them former first-day free agents, was a declaration to the world that the stupid money days were over. Former splashes such as Antwaan Randle-El, Cornelius Griffin, Fred Smoot, Randy Thomas and Todd Collins were all shown the door to leave, the same door that was opened to them with millions behind it a couple short years ago. Thursday's cut list from the Redskins may have been the most dramatic statement made in the 2010 League Year year.
So, a week into the new NFL without a Salary Cap, a team that has usually avoided big spending - the Bears -- is throwing the money around and a team know for its Steinbrenner-esque spending - the Redskins - is keeping its spending down.
The new Bears. The new Redskins. Who knew?