March 02, 2006
By:  Robert Glickler
PatsFans.com Fan Columnist

It never ceases to amaze me how differently teams can be run.  Things that seem obvious to one franchise are completely alien to others.

Case in point: the salary cap.  How can it be that so many franchises are in as deep trouble as they are?  Take the Raiders as an example.  They have limited star power beyond Randy, limited youth, and no success.  How can they have such a terrible team and be against the cap as much as they are?  There is speculation that the only way the Raiders can possibly get out from under their cap woes is to cut everyone making over a million dollars a year and fill the whole roster with practice squad guys.  Had this only been a case of Al Davis pretending to be named Steinbrenner one would not see any cause for alarm, but half of the NFL is in some measure of the same predicament.

Prior to cuts there were fifteen teams who had cap problems so bad that cutting a player as high-profile as Tom Brady (even with no cap penalties) would not have cured.  Fans in Denver must be feeling extremely short-changed knowing that their team was on the cusp of greatness yet had to release three starters due to franchise mismanagement.  Sure, Mike Anderson is easily replaced since anyone even slightly more athletic than Oprah Winfrey can rush for 1000 yards in Denver, but that is not the point.  Try explaining to the 9-year-old in Denver that his favorite player was cut because his team had no concept of fiscal constraint.

Now look to New York.  The Jets are in their own cap hell for the same but completely different reasons.  Yes, that makes no sense but give me some leeway.  The Jets figured they would build their franchise around their quarterback, a strategy that typically makes sense.  The mistake they made was that they forgot to look at their own team’s history and that the guy they were banking on was made of saltine crackers and crumbles when hit even slightly.  Pundits will say that had the Jets followed the Patriots model they would never have given Pennington the size contract that they did, but these pundits forget that Tom Brady accounts for 15% of the entire Patriots salary cap, significantly more than Pennington counts against the Jets cap.  The only difference between the two decisions is that one team has a tough guy and the other has a delicate soul.

While looking South from Boston we see other cities on the horizon beyond New York.  The Redskins have been spending money faster than Dubya in Iraq, and just about every Eastern Seaboard team is way over the cap.  Last year we all thought that the wholesale dumping of stars in Tennessee would solve the cap hell, but they are right back where they started.  Miami began a recovery last season but will fall back a bit with the loss of starters who made a few bucks.  Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa?  All the same.  The good news is that both Pittsburgh and Indy are in cap trouble, well at least this is good news if you were bored by either the Super Bowl or the Peyton Manning hype the last number of years.

So, is there an answer to the problem of the cap?  Probably.  We should leave the expiring CBA out of it since the status of the contract is likely to change hourly and would force anything I say here into obsolescence immediately.  My ideas are drawn both from what successful teams are doing as well as from imagination:

  1. Remember Ponce de León- As players get older they panic and make poor decisions in the never-ending pursuit of the last “big score”.  Ty Law was unwilling to rework his deal, and found himself out on the street, cut twice in 12 months.  Had he remembered Ponce de León he would know that there is no such thing as the fountain of youth, and he would have aged gracefully with the riches he had amassed along the way.  He also would have gone out a hero, not remembered as a guy who hung on too long to a pipe dream.
  2. Reserve Emotions for Chick Flicks- Any time an athlete hears “I love you” he is likely to get too big an impression of himself.  Love is for movies with Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock and other “pretty people”.  Love is not meant for football.  Football is about hurting people, getting dirty, and cold winter days.  The game is gritty, and so should the business.  Pretty boy Adam Vinateri is likely the greatest kicker in the NFL, and girls swoon at the sight of him.  Does that warrant over three million dollars?  Not likely.  Football is about being tough, the toughest decision a team can possibly make is about whether to overspend on the most mentally tough kicker ever.  Pats fans, don’t count on #4 returning since some other team will overpay to pry him away from the Patriots.
  3. The Game Must Go On- We watched the NHL lock out the players over salary issues, and now the NHL is posting ratings so low that it makes the re-runs of “This Old House” seem like March Madness.  Can football be far behind?  The cap is a great idea, and the NFL has had the only real cap in any sport.  This is partly the reason that football has the best TV contracts of any of the sports.  Should over half the league fall out of any hope of contention even before the season starts lowers the value of advertising spots, and will eventually harm the league as a whole.  It is in everyone’s best interest to keep finances under control since it is currently impossible to sell a 30-second spot on the Saints broadcast, and once the Raiders make all their cuts people will be looking at their roster with the same bewilderment as expressed early in the movie “Major League”.

With any luck this problem will be ironed out in the next number of days, but not likely.  In the meantime the smart teams will have the chance to feed on the stupid.  Teams like New England who is under the 94.5 million cap by about 4 million dollars, and has plenty of ability to shuffle money, can take on cap casualties and get even better.

 Robert Glickler
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