As you've undoubtedly heard by now, it's all but certain that the 2010 NFL season will go on without a salary cap. No salary cap also means no salary floor. If this happens long-term, it'd be Goodnight Irene for the Bengals' chances at a championship as long as Mike Brown ran the team. However, I'm of the belief that we don't have to worry about this. For all their posturing, the NFLPA knows that the salary cap system in place is good for both parties. After the 2010 season, whenever football is played again, it will be under a salary cap.
Thus, I'm operating under the assumption that 2011 and beyond will be under very similar cap rules as those that have been in place. A quick, very basic refresher. A player's salary counts only towards their cap number for the year it is paid, and can vary wildly by year. It can go from $10M one year to only $300k the next, depending on the structure of the contract. Thus, a player can have very, very different figures against the cap from year to year. Obviously, no player would allow their pay to be jerked around so violently every season. This is stemmed by two types of bonuses, signing and roster (they can be but are not always guaranteed). Signing bonuses are prorated over the life of the contract. For example, a 5 year contract with a $20M signing bonus means that $4M counts towards a player's cap figure every year of the deal. If a player is released at any point of those 5 years, the remaining bonus proration counts against the cap immediately. Roster bonuses, for the purpose of this article, function very similar to base salaries, at least in the way they are counted against the salary cap.
I follow the league as a whole daily, and I've yet to see any conclusive opinion on how exactly contracts signed in 2010 will count towards future salary caps. Will they be prorated as per usual? Will they work under a different set of rules? Nobody knows for sure, and nobody will until the next CBA is hammered out, which will be in March 2011 at the earliest.