Labor uncertainty forces NFL teams into hypothetical mode as they plan for a future without known rules.
ESPN's John Clayton touched upon one of the possibilities in his latest column, pointing to the Seattle Seahawks as the team most threatened by the potential return of "Final Eight" rules for playoff teams. Those rules could prevent Seattle from pursuing a high-profile free agent such as Oakland Raiders guard Robert Gallery, who played for Seahawks assistant Tom Cable.
"Unless they lose a high-priced free agent, the Seahawks could offer Gallery only a little less than $4 million in the first year," Clayton wrote. "Top guards in free agency get $6 million to $8 million a season with huge up-front money. Unless they lose a free agent for that price, they'd have to settle for a lesser player and also not be able to fix other positions."
The Seahawks became one of the final eight playoff teams last season after upsetting New Orleans in the wild-card round. No one knows whether the league would implement 2010 rules for free agency if it were to operate without a labor agreement. That is one option, however, and the "Final Eight" rule would indeed hurt Seattle. The team has positioned itself to have ample spending leeway should a salary cap return, but a better-than-expected finish to the 2010 season could force unpleasant choices.
Seattle's quarterback situation comes to mind specifically. The team could re-sign Matt Hasselbeck without restriction under "Final Eight" rules. But if the Seahawks decided to make Charlie Whitehurst the starter in 2011, losing Hasselbeck to a lucrative deal elsewhere could, in theory, clear the way for Seattle to sign Gallery or another high-priced free agent.
These are hypotheticals built upon hypotheticals. Sometimes, they're also all we've got.