Potential uncapped year bad news for free agents

We’ve known for quite some time that the 2010 free-agent class was going to be among the least attractive in the history of the salary cap, and with each day that we pull closer to an uncapped year, the more obvious that becomes.

The bulk of the 2005 and 2006 draft classes — all of those picks still in the league and yet to receive a contract extension — are now facing the prospect of being restricted free agents and thus still bound to their teams, rather than unrestricted free agents as they long had figured. That’s because free agency has moved from four years of service time to six for the 2010 season, and that’s just one of the many changes to the free agency rules that could put a sweeping chilling effect on spending.

The Associated Press on Thursday put an exact number on the players who will be directly impacted by the change in service time — 212. And while it’s true that the very best-of-the-best of those draft classes — Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and DeMarcus Ware, for instance — have already received their massive second contracts, the bulk of that group has not.

Even more striking to me, however, is just how few truly elite players remain in unrestricted free agency. I posted the entire list in my column on Nov. 13, of everyone eligible to be an undrafted free agent in 2010 as of that time, and it’s not star-studded at all.

Here’s a quick look at the glory positions and just how little top, in-form talent is available.

  • Quarterbacks: Charlie Batch, Kyle Boller, Mark Brunell, David Carr, Daunte Culpepper, A.J. Feeley, Rex Grossman, Josh McCown, Chad Pennington, Chris Redman, Brian St. Pierre.
  • Running backs: Chris Brown, Kevin Faulk, Ahman Green, Verron Haynes, Edgerrin James, Willie Parker, Adrian Peterson (not that AP), Aaron Stecker, Chester Taylor, Larry Johnson.
  • Wide receivers: Arnaz Battle, Marty Booker, Antonio Bryant, Nate Burleson, Tim Carter, Chris Chambers, Antonio Chatman, Terrance Copper, Bobby Engram, Brian Finneran, Mike Furrey, Greg Lewis, Brandon Lloyd, Derrick Mason, Shaun McDonald, Sean Morey, Muhsin Muhammad, Kassim Osgood, Terrell Owens, Josh Reed, David Tyree, Bobby Wade, Kevin Walter, Kelley Washington, Ernest Wilford.

For months, agents have been telling me just how rough they expect this offseason to be for players and agents, given the restrictive rules on free agency in place. When you look at it in terms of pure numbers and available talent, it becomes even more clear that the 2010 system greatly favors management and would seem to give the owners quite a bit of leverage as the sides try to hash out a way to extend this current CBA into 2011 and beyond.

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