Looming lockout already impacting NFL

As expected, NFL free agency this year was largely affected by the lack of a collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and its players. With a lockout looming in March, teams simply have decided not to spend the kind of money that the players were hoping for.

Why did free agency really slow down? What is on the horizon for next year? Let's take a look.

Restricted free agency

When the new league year started in March, 531 players were free agents. Out of that group, 216 were restricted free agents, but only 14 of them received an extension. And out of that group, two of those players were traded, so only 12 players got extensions from their own team. And finally, only one restricted free agent, RB Mike Bell, got an offer sheet from another team, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Most league observers point to the "30-percent rule" that states contract extensions or renegotiations entered into the new league year (2010) can't increase from the previous season (in this case 2009) or beyond more than 30 percent of the previous year's base salary as the reason for the lack of new deals. The way teams have gotten around this, and it's very difficult, is to use a large signing bonus. Signing bonuses are excluded from the 30-percent rule. But most teams have balked at giving so much guaranteed money in contracts so few teams decided to extend contracts. Instead, they did deals like the one Philadelphia did with QB Kevin Kolb; the Eagles signed him to a one-year extension for over $12 million. In that deal, Kolb got a sizeable signing bonus ($10.7 million).

In the expiring labor deal, players would be unrestricted after just four years. Without a new labor deal, new rules are in effect for 2010. They aren't unrestricted until after six. So getting players back to being unrestricted after four years will certainly be a big issue in the negotiations for a new labor agreement.

While collusion is hard to prove, it's clear that teams didn't feel any sense of urgency to extend deals without having a labor deal in place for the future.

Revis deal ... or no deal?

Many teams have said that the main reason why they have not extended deals is because they don't know what the rules will be in the new CBA (collective bargaining agreement). That could be why some name quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady don't have new deals. But what about players who have outplayed their existing deals?

By now, everyone is aware of the contractual situation between New York Jets CB Darrelle Revis and the team. Revis wants a new deal and while he still has three years left on his rookie contract, the team has acknowledged that he's outperformed his contract.

Some league observers have pointed to the team's reluctance to include a lot of upfront money (really fully guaranteed) in his deal as the reason the Jets haven't been aggressive enough. But would a new collective bargaining agreement in place really change anything?

No free agency

If the lockout goes off as expected, fans will not have what they truly love, the excitement of the new league year. Much like the Hot Stove League in Major League Baseball, NFL free agency is the one time of year, much like opening up gifts on Christmas morning, that fans can disable all negative thoughts and feel good about their favorite sport.

The bottom line is it would be very sad if the fans were shut out of football in 2011. They are the innocent victim, or innocent bystander, in all of this labor strife, which doesn't seem like it's going to be ending any time soon.

So enjoy your football while you still have it.