More info on the CBA issue, from SI.com, written by Peter King.
The owners opted out of the labor deal at the best time possible

The NFL owners' early opt out of their labor agreement with the players is one of the best things that could happen to the process. That isn't to say that this won't be a long and arduous fight between the players, who believe they deserve their rightful share of the pie, and the league, which has some legitimate financial concerns with small market franchises lagging behind the big boys, but timing was a key element here.

"This is actually fine," NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw told me Tuesday. "We knew [the opt out] was coming. You don't want it happening in November, in the middle of the football season. Now we're on the clock and hopefully this will help us get close to an agreement [before the contract expires in 2011]."

At the end of a short conversation late Tuesday morning, Upshaw sounded as optimistic as a welcome wagon hostess. "Don't worry," he said. "It'll get done." Likewise, the league said it would negotiate with the NFLPA "without threat of interruption [of games] for at least the next three seasons."
There is motivation for both sides to do a deal. From the owners' perspective, they don't want to be seen as the stewards of the game who killed the golden goose. From the players' side, they know that if they get to an uncapped year in 2010 without a new agreement -- the NFL is assured to have its salary cap intact for at least this season and next -- then the advantage shifts decidedly to the owners.

When the current CBA was put in place in 2006, the owners installed an onerous set of guidelines if either side were to opt out of the agreement: those guidelines would be in place for the 2010 season only. The highlights:

FREE AGENCY: Currently, players who are unsigned and have finished at least four NFL seasons are free. In the 2010 market, players will be free if they are unsigned after at least their sixth NFL season. In other words, 2009 would have to be a player's sixth season, and he would have to enter 2010 unsigned. Let's use Cleveland wide receiver Braylon Edwards as an example. In his original rookie contract, signed in 2005, the final year is 2009, which would be his fifth NFL season. Ordinarily, he'd be a free-agent in 2010 -- if the team didn't sign him before then or place a franchise tag on him. But under the 2010 rules, he won't be a free-agent.

MORE RESTRICTIONS VIA FRANCHISE AND TRANSITION TAGS: Each team now can use one franchise-player tag and one transition-player tag -- which pay the tagged player, respectively, the average of the top five and top 10 salaries at his position. In 2010, the revised deal would allow each team the use of a second transition tag. If a team chose to use all its tags, it could stop its best three players from hitting the unrestricted free-agent market.

RESTRICTIONS FOR THE TOP EIGHT TEAMS IN FOOTBALL: If the uncapped year is reached, the teams with the best eight records in football in 2009 will be severely restricted from jumping into the pool. It's still not precisely determined how the system would work, but let's say the Patriots are one of the top eight and want to sign a free-agent to a five-year, $20-million contract. They'd have to lose their own player or players to contracts totaling $20 million before they could sign the free agent they want. Conceptually, that's how this clause in the deal is going to work, but the exact mechanics of it are not clear yet. The purpose is very clear: The best teams are going to have tight leashes in free agency.
All told, teams would be able to protect more players with tags, and would have fewer free agents because of the six-year rule, and the best eight teams would be playing with one hand tied behind their back.
Upshaw told me that if the players have to play under those conditions in 2010, that would be the last year they would do so. He said in 2011 and beyond the players would be free agents whenever their contracts expired. That, obviously, is a scenario the owners would loathe.

There is no question that the key point, the deadline point that really means something, now comes in March 2010. In early March of every offseason, the NFL begins its new year and institutes a new salary cap number for teams to live by that season. If there is no deal between owners and players by then, an uncapped year would ensue. Some owners might start paying 30-year-old unsigned veterans silly money then, but most wouldn't. As Upshaw said Tuesday, the spring of 2010 is the point both sides need an agreement to be made by.

"What you have to look at in 2010 is, 'What is the alternative?' " Upshaw said, referring to March 2010 coming and going without a new labor agreement. "If we ever get beyond [the uncapped year], we're not going back [to a salary cap system.]."

Let the saber rattling begin. The NFL and the union have 22 months to be smart.