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30 percent rule still looms over uncapped year

With the salary cap disappearing in 2010, plenty of players still under contract might be looking for new deals.

If, after all, there’s no spending limit and fewer free agents are available and guys are operating under deals done when a cap was in place, some of them might expect a big raise.

But there’s a problem, as one league source pointed out in response to our recent suggestion that the decision of Steve Smith (the young, good one) to change agents could be a sign that he wants to strike it rich.

The 30 percent rule applies to the renegotiation of any contracts.

It means that the player’s salary in 2010 can’t be more than 30 percent greater than the player’s salary in 2009. For players still operating under the minimum base salaries of a slotted rookie deal, that’s a problem. A big problem.

But there’s a loophole. NFL director of corporate communications Dan Masonson has confirmed for us that signing bonuses won’t count toward the 30 percent rule. Still, it means that the bulk of a player’s compensation would have to be funneled to him via a signing bonus, with limited base salaries in future years. While the player might be fine with that in 2010, the player might feel a lot differently in the out years of the deal.

Then there’s the looming lockout. Why would a team want to front load a deal with a huge signing bonus in 2010 if there might be no football in 2011? Every player who receives such a deal is one less player who will have to face the prospect of living game check to game check with no game check.

So keep an eye on this angle as the uncapped year begins. Plenty of players under contract will want more money. It’s unlikely that many will get it.