CBA uncertainty leaves the Seahawks in limbo

Pete Carroll’s keys will still work at the team’s headquarters.

At least that’s his understanding. General manager John Schneider’s will, too. As for Seattle’s players? Well, that’s going to be a question come March 4, when the league’s collective-bargaining agreement is scheduled to expire.

“There’s tremendous uncertainty with what’s going on with the next few months,” Carroll said.

The CBA controls everything from the rules governing free agency, to the salary cap, to the distribution of money between ownership and players.

Once it expires, possible outcomes range from a quick agreement on a new deal, to a lockout, to a protracted labor impasse that could affect everything from the timetable for free agency to the 2011 schedule.

So for Matt Hasselbeck and the 24 other Seahawks who could become unrestricted free agents, that means the question isn’t just where they might sign, but when they could.

“The X factor here is that I don’t know exactly how it works,” Hasselbeck said. “If the lockout does come March 4, I don’t know when the time to sign free agents would be.”

No one does. But in the meantime, here’s a quick CBA primer:

Q: Is it certain there will be a lockout?

A: No. That’s just what many expect. The owners opted out of the current CBA two years ago, signaling their unhappiness with the current deal. After March 4, the league’s teams could choose to effectively shutter their doors until a new agreement is reached.

There has also been some thought that the owners could try to impose the terms of a previous offer because of the existence of the impasse, essentially putting the onus on the NFL Players Association to either accept those terms or initiate the league’s first work stoppage since 1987.

Q: Will the draft happen?

A: Yes, it will take place as scheduled, April 28-30. Same for the scouting combine. While players will be drafted in April, they will not be signed until a new collective-bargaining agreement is reached.

Q: So what’s the difference between a strike and a lockout?

A: A strike is called by the union, the workers choosing to stop. A lockout is when owners forbid members of the union from working. In this case, ownership is forcing the issue, beginning with its vote two years ago to opt out of the CBA early.

Q: Does it affect more than just players?

A: Yes. A lockout could prompt teams to make all kinds of cutbacks — either temporary or permanent — within the franchises. The union has also indicated that contracts for some assistant coaches were negotiated to include provisions for a lockout. That might be one reason a number of NFL assistants have taken college-coaching jobs this year, negating the possibility of their employment being affected.

Q: What are the issues?

A: Big surprise: money. Specifically, the owners believe the current collective-bargaining agreement fails to account for large capital expenditures — read: stadium financing — and that the percentage of money dedicated to player salaries must be adjusted.

Also, the owners want to add two games to the regular-season schedule, for a total of 18. A rookie salary scale, similar to what is used in the NBA, is also a negotiating point.

Q: But we’re still months away from the start of the football season. Will a work stoppage in March have any effect on the season?

A: Well, the start of free agency, a staple of the offseason, generally occurs before the draft. If it doesn’t, and if there is a long work stoppage, there could be a condensed period of free agency that occurs practically on the eve of training camp.

“The time frame to develop your team may be cut to a week or two before you start football,” Carroll said.

For a player like Jordan Babineaux, who like Hasselbeck is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, that means there is a waiting game.

“There’s a lot of things that we just can’t control,” Babineaux said. “The whole free-agency debacle and what’s going to take place with that, only thing that is going to help that is time.”

Q: So how are the Seahawks affected?

A: This team structured itself to be very flexible in the offseason. The contracts of veterans like Sean Locklear and Leroy Hill were renegotiated before the 2010 season, making them free agents. This team is set to make moves to upgrade its roster, and that’s something that could be delayed by a lockout.

“We’d like to get to work and get going,” Carroll said. “You know how active we are, so I don’t know what we’re going to do with each other — pick up some new hobbies or something, I don’t know.”

But at least he knows his keys will still work.