As a diehard New England Patriots and NFL fan, this is not good. The NFL is my favorite of all sports, but with the talks broken off to extend the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) past 2007, there's big trouble on the horizon. A new dealine of 12:01 am ET tonight has been set for talks, but said talks are not scheduled. This is not good. First, the salary cap remains at ~ $95-6 million instead of the projected ~ $102 million. While I normally have little sympathy for millionaire athletes who have to take pay cuts or lose jobs because of cap constraints, I feel differently regarding most NFL players because their contracts, unlike other sports, are not guaranteed. The local Denver Broncos already had to get rid of three key players, including the very popular, very productive Trevor Pryce. Mike Anderson, who was still the starting running back, was cut too. Many teams are going to have to cut a lot of good players, and a lot of them may not get back in the league. I saw on ESPN yesterday that the Pats may have to cut Rodney Harrison, which scares the heck out of me.
Second, the latest word from the airwaves is the NFLPA (union) will vote to decertify, forcing an uncapped year in 2007. Not only does this likely lead to an onwer-induced lockout in 2008 after the CBA expires, but a salary cap could never be put back in once it's taken out. The cap has really helped out the NFL IMHO, it lets everyone play with equal rules. Now of course some big-market teams can generate a bit more local revenue than others, but they cannot spend millions more than others to essentially buy Super Bowl contenders. Every team has a chance to compete in the NFL, which makes it a special league.
Without a cap, I am very concerned that the NFL will turn into Major League Baseball, which I will publicly admit I might not have followed closely anymore if I had not had the Red Sox so ingrained in me after spending my formative years in Massachusetts. We don't need another baseball, every team and every market can compete in the NFL with a competent front office. Basically, as long as your manangement wasn't incompetent schmucks along the lines of the Arizona Cardinals or the 1990s Cincinnati Bengals, you can make at least a playoff run every few years. With no salary cap, only ten or so teams have the local revenue to spend at will, even with revenue sharing.
As to how all of this affects the Patriots long-term, I have a different take than you would think. Now The Krafts are certainly "big market, big bucks" owners who could spend at will and perhaps stockpile talent galore. Houston, Dallas, Washington, Philadelphia, Denver, Chicago, Cleveland, and the two New York teams if they get a new stadium, all fall into said category.
However, I don't necessarily think the Patriots would be big beneficiaries of an uncapped, free for all system. IMHO a huge competitive advantage for the Pats has been their ability to work contracts within the cap. They have done the best job in the league of creating an all for one, one for all, team first environment. While they would have more money than most franchise in a free for all environment....I am not certain that in said environment, where the $$$ can be earned anywhere, New Enlgand is quite possibly nowhere near the top of most players' destination wishes. Now they still have the recent winning reputation, but I don't see New England as attractive as say, Dallas, and many other markets, in this free for all. The media doesn't help the situation in New England either. While they will never be as virulent as they are with the Red Sox, lots of athletes don't feel like doing with the ill-tempered, "we're the story" New England media, and justifiably so, all things equal.
In short, this is not a good thing, for my team or for the league. Something may still come out of talks today, if they happen.