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Originally published March 3, 2010 at 6:00 PM | Page modified March 3, 2010 at 7:37 PM

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Even if NFL drops salary cap, don't expect Seahawks to go 'hog wild' in free agency

Free agency begins Thursday night, and by Friday the NFL might no longer have a salary cap. But new Seahawks general manager John Schneider says the team will be "responsible" in pursuit of free agents.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Seahawks have the richest owner in a league that stands at the brink of shedding its salary cap for the first time since 1993.

They also have a new general manager, John Schneider, who comes from a franchise known for its recent unwillingness to engage in the bidding wars that mark the first few days of free agency.

So while many wonder if Seattle will bring big fat bags of cash into the open market, Schneider used the words "responsible" and "normal" when discussing the NFL free-agency period scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. Pacific on Thursday.

What happens once the opening bell rings is anyone's guess.

"No one really knows where this market is going to go," Schneider said last weekend in Indianapolis.

"Uncharted waters," said Scot McCloughan, 49ers general manager.

For 15 years, the salary cap has been a steadfast governor of NFL spending, limiting the financial RPMs for each individual team.

But in 2008, league owners voted to opt out of the collective-bargaining agreement. If the NFL Players Association and owners do not agree to an extension to that collective-bargaining agreement by Friday, the salary cap evaporates.

"It has been a lot more difficult just because you have two different scenarios," Schneider said. "Two possible scenarios, and nobody has a true feel for where the market is going to go."

The expectation is that no agreement will be reached on an extension and the salary cap will disappear. That's not certain, though.

"It could go both ways," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "You talk like it's only going one way. We have to be ready for both of those scenarios and hopefully take advantage and maximize our opportunities. We feel like we're in a strong position. We have to see it through and execute."

It's not just the spending limits that hang in the balance, but the pool of available players. Under the league's current economic structure, Seahawks center Chris Spencer, guard Rob Sims and defensive end Darryl Tapp would be unrestricted free agents.

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In an uncapped year, a player must have accrued six NFL seasons to become an unrestricted free agent. That means Seattle's trio of Spencer, Sims and Tapp would be restricted, the Seahawks able to either match any offer they received on the open market or receive compensation in the form of draft picks.

So what will Seattle's budget be if the league loses its salary cap?

"We're not actually supposed to talk about what we budget ourselves," Schneider said, "but every team has a specific budget that they're going to work under. We're going to do the same thing, but not based on what we think other people are going to do, ... just the way we would normally handle things."

So, don't expect the Seahawks to be dropping garbage bags full of cash into the open market?

"We're going to proceed like it's any other year," Schneider said. "It's not one of those things where you just automatically go hog-wild."

There's a reason for that restraint. The lack of a salary cap frees a team up to sling around signing bonuses for 2010, but a new collective-bargaining agreement could be reached in the future. So there is the very distinct possibility that a large contract signed in an uncapped season would be counted against a future cap. Pay too much this year, a team might pay the consequences later.

So while Paul Allen is the league's richest owner, it doesn't sound like Seattle's approach to an uncapped year will leave him wondering where his wallet went.

"You have to be responsible," Schneider said.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

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