One of the mandates by the NFL for the final year of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players is that beginning last Friday there would be no salary cap to restrict teams from attempting to “buy a world championship.”

Gone is the salary cap which was originally set a $34.6 million in 1994 and expanded to $123 million in 2009. One can see Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones jump at the chance to open the purse-strings to his billions and load up his team’s roster.

But the downside is that the salary cap will probably return when a new collective bargaining agreement replaces the current on that expires next March. And teams that load up with high-priced talent will have to dump many of them for the 2011 season to get back under the salary cap.

However, one of the most jarring rules of an uncapped season is that it now takes players six years to earn status as unrestricted free agents instead of the four years in the past. And there are more than 200 players with expired contracts and at least four years experience that will still be categorized as restricted free agents.

As restricted free agents the players simply can’t leave if they receive an offer from another team as long as their team made them a one-year tender offer to retain them. Their existing team can retain them by matching any offer, or receive draft-pick compensation.
As far as unrestricted free agents are concerned, teams that advanced to championship games (New Orleans, Minnesota, Indianapolis and the New York Jets) can sign one unrestricted free agent for each unrestricted free agent lost.

Teams eliminated in the divisional round of the playoffs (Dallas, San Diego, Arizona and Baltimore) can sign one unrestricted free agent for at least $5.5 million in the first year of the contract and then face restrictions before signing others.

These two rules, known as “The Final Eight Rules” don’t apply to a team’s own unrestricted free agents or to signing players released while under contract such as running backs LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook and Thomas Jones.

Art Rooney II, president of the Pittsburgh Steelers who have won more Super Bowls than any other NFL franchise (six), will not let the uncapped season change his way of operating his team.

“I can honestly say I’m not tempted,” Rooney told USA Today Sports Weekly last week at the NFL’s scouting combine. “I’ve looked around the league at guys who have done that, and there aren’t too many success stories. I think the way we’ve done it has proven to be successful. I’m not sure you can build your team through free agency.”

Baltimore Ravens’ general manager Ozzie Newsome looked at it differently. “Do we want to improve at the wide receiver position? Yes, because I think that we will further enhance our running game,” Newsome told The Sporting News last week. “Having a playmaker on the outside will help Joe Flacco become a better quarterback.”

Last weekend one of the many blockbuster deals involved the Arizona Cardinals trading wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the Ravens for a third and fourth-round pick in the upcoming 2010 draft.

Newsome had been inquiring about Houston Texans’ receiver Kevin Walter and Dallas Cowboys’ budding star Miles Austin, both of whom are restricted free agents. Before Newsome could hang up the phone Walter agreed to a five-year, $21.5 million contract with the Texans while Austin was offered a one-year deal by the Cowboys for $3.168 million.

After missing the NFL playoffs the last three years the Chicago Bears became the weekend’s big spenders by signing five-time All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers, an unrestricted free agent formerly with the Carolina Panthers, then added running back Chester Taylor from the Minnesota Vikings and blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna from San Diego.

Former All-Pro cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who struggled in coverage for San Diego last season, was traded to the New York Jets and is expected to start for Head Coach Rex Ryan opposite All-Pro Darrelle Revis. The Jets gave up a conditional draft pick for Cromartie.

The lowly Detroit Lions signed unrestricted free agent Kyle Vanden Bosch, who spent the last five seasons with the Tennessee Titans, to beef up their defensive line.

The Indianapolis Colts re-signed linebacker Gary Brackett, All-Pro fullback Leonard Weaver re-signed with the Philadelphia Eagles while the Cleveland Browns restructured the final three years of the six-year deal with All-Pro return specialist Josh Cribbs, who is the NFL’s career leader with eight kickoff returns for touchdowns.

All of last weekend’s news wasn’t good, however, as Carolina waived longtime starting quarterback Jake Delhomme, a native of Breaux Bridge, La., a year after giving him a lucrative contract extension. A career-high 18 interceptions and 23 in his final 12 games led to his demise.

“He’s done some great things for this team—two NFC championship games, a Super Bowl, all those comeback victories,” commented a somber Head Coach John Fox. “I’m not sure I’ve had any more respect for an NFL player than Jake Delhomme.”
Delhomme may have gotten the last laugh, though, because Carolina still owes him more than $12.5 million in guaranteed money.

KWICKIES…Congrats are in order to the Orangefield Bobcats baseball team for defeating the Class 5A Memorial Titans 13-7 to win their own tournament last weekend. The Bobcats have overpowered all six opponents going into Tuesday’s game at Kelly and were ranked as the No. 1 area team by this weekend’s high school baseball poll.

The Lamar baseball team won three of four games in last weekend’s 2010 YMBL/Cardinal Classic, concluding with an impressive 8-3 win over Penn State. The victory was the second in as many days against the Nittany Lions, who were shut out 4-0 by Cardinal hurler Matison Smith Saturday. The Big Red’s only loss came at the hands of our alma mater McNeese 12-9 after the Cowboys erupted for 11 runs in the sixth inning. Lamar improved its early-season record to 9-2 and will host Prairie View A&M Tuesday and Wednesday at Vincent-Beck Stadium in Beaumont.
Craig Couvillion made an eagle-3 on the Par 5, 530-yard No. 7 hole at Sunset Grove Sunday. He hit his pitching wedge from 60 yards that took one hop and went into the hole. Witnesses (victims) of his feat were yours truly and Kenny Ruane.

A tip of the Korner Kap to the Lamar Lady Cardinals basketball team for winning the Southland Conference championship with an 81-52 victory over hapless Nicholls State. It was the Lady Cardinals first conference title since 1992, after going 23-7 in the regular season and 13-3 in SLC competition. Lamar, the SLC tournament’s No. 1 seed, will meet eighth-seeded Southeastern Louisiana (12-17 and 6-10) 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Merrell Center in Katy. Unfortunately, the Lamar men’s basketball team failed to finish in the top eight and didn’t qualify for the men’s SLC tournament.

JUST BETWEEN US…Two area teams will play for the University Interscholastic League boys’ high school basketball state championship this weekend at the University of Texas’ Erwin Center in Austin. The Silsbee Tigers (30-4), winners of District 21-3A and Region III, will meet No. 1-seeded Dallas Madison (28-8) 2 p.m. Thursday in the state semifinals. The winner of this game will meet the winner of the other Class 3A contest between Stafford (23-11) and Lubbock Estacado (32-4) in the state championship game Saturday at 10 a.m. In the Class A state championship, Spurger (28-5) plays top-seeded Cayuga (20-2) Thursday at 10 a.m. The winner will met the winner of the game between Gruver (28-5) and Bronte (26-5) in the state championship game Saturday at 8:30 a.m.