The NFL's 32 owners unanimously voted to opt out of the current labor agreement earlier today in Atlanta. The same labor agreement was extended only two short years ago, but quite a bit has changed since then. Owners aren't happy with the amount of earnings that go to the players, especially unproved rookies. That is one of the biggest reasons why the owners opted out of the CBA, putting the 2011 season in jeopardy if a new deal isn't agreed to before then.
When the latest extension of the CBA was agreed to in 2006, it gave owners the ability terminate the agreement a year or two years early. It wasn't a surprise that they decided to do that today as this move was expected, although the timing of everything was a little unpredictable. The owners did opt out earlier than originally expected, but that is a good thing as the more time for negotiations the better as it will mean there is less of a chance of a work stoppage in 2011.
Many fans may be worried about what this means in the near future, but really it doesn't mean a whole lot on the field just yet. The next two seasons will be no different. Contracts will have some changes as teams will have to prepare for the possibility of having no salary cap in 2010, but that's really it.
Once 2010 does arrive, if there is no agreement in place before the season, then things will start to get interesting. 2010 would be an uncapped year, and contrary to popular belief, teams would actually have a tougher time signing free agents. My first reaction before researching this topic was that teams like the Cowboys and Redskins would get to go on a shopping spree, but that's not true at all. The NFL has "triggers" in place in case an uncapped year does take place that will greatly limit the ability to even become a free agent.
Pat Kirwan went in-depth on the different triggers that exist, but the gist of it is that teams will get to use three tags (two transitional and one franchise) instead of only one, players will have to be in the league longer to become a free agent, and teams that make the playoffs won't get to spend as much money as teams that don't make the playoffs. Since less players will even become free agents, teams with bigger bank accounts won't be able to buy their way to a Super Bowl title.
The biggest issue that everyone is worried about is what happens if no deal is in place by 2011. If that is the case, then there would be a work stoppage that season. Replacement players could be brought in to fill the void left by members of the NFLPA, but that really doesn't seem like that great of an idea. The other option is to simply have no 2011 season. It would be like what happened in the NHL a few years back where an entire season didn't take place. Although the popularity of the NFL wouldn't take as big a hit as the NHL did, it certainly wouldn't be doing anything to make more people tune in to games in the future.
I do expect the owners and NFLPA to come to an agreement before 2011 to prevent any work stoppage. Will there be a deal in place before an uncapped year becomes a reality? That's definitely not as clear. I would bet on something being put together before that happens, but in situations like this sometimes negotiations don't heat up until the pressure is on and time is running out. The NFL has to be smart in how this is handled for sure, but it is way to early to start panicking about the future of the league at this point.