Free Trial Ad
Why Subscribe?
  • Player/Prospect News
  • Exclusive Insider Info
  • Members-Only Forums
  • Exclusive Videos
  • Subscribe Now!
InboxChat RoomChat Room (0 fans in chatroom)

the salary cap and why it matters

Avatar

Posted: 10/26/2013 12:09 PM

the salary cap and why it matters 


Hello to all my amigos in niner land.  I have some time today, so I thought I'd do a post on the realities of the NFL salary cap, why it matters, and why good cap management is so crucial these days, and the consequences of bad cap management.  Next offseason (ie 2014), the NFL's salary cap turns 20.  Twenty years since the first cap, at 25 million dollars per team, was the law of the land.  It also means we now have twenty years of good, hard data to indicate how to manage, what happens when you don't, and why some people never learn.  

To take a case, look at the Dallas Cowboys.  I'm sure you guys read the grantland article on this cap mess here, I did, and I can recall few things that I've ever read in the media that made me feel better, that completely reinforced what I already believed, and that seemed to validate my biggest hope for the future (that the cowboys would never win anything ever again).  Reading that article was like watching unbelieveably good porn, but better than porn, in some ways, because nobody was "acting".  

You can read the reaction of some scout.com cowboys fans to this article on page two of this thread.  Needless to say, its exactly how you would expect Cowboy's fans to react.  So, all of this is fine and dandy, but also leaves an open question: whose right, Grantland or the "what me worry?" contingent of Cowboy's fans?  The answer is that they're both right, sort of.  For niners fans who follow the franchise that coined the term "salary cap hell", this might not make sense.  We, better than anyone else, knows what happens when the cap eventually catches up with you.  However, for niner's fans, the cap "catching up with us" didn't happen until after the niners no longer had a good QB.  If Steve Young, and Jeff Garcia after him, had been good for a few more seasons, the niners would have pushed off the future further into the future (like Jerry jones does every year, without a good QB, and no, Tony Romo doesn't count) and decided to pay the piper at a more conveinent date.  The way the salary cap works makes that very doable.  The cowboys' fans are actually correct when they say that you can, in theory, restructure indefinitely (to a logical maximum, of course, that you'll probably never hit).  

However (and you knew there would be a "however", right?  I mean I can't spend a whole paragraph validating the logic of Cowboys' fans without the "however" paragraph.  You guys know me better than that, I hope.) here's is the large fallacy with the pushing off your debts to tomorrow: other teams aren't doing that.  You can be a playoff contender, and, if you have the right QB, a playoff team, year after year, by restructuring, pushing debt to tomorrow and trying to go for it today, but you cannot win playoff games and Superbowls with that strategy.  Getting to the postseason is a very different thing than winning in the postseason and getting to the Superbowl.  You notice how Cowboys' fans, whenever they say "we'll just restructure this and that, don't sweat it" never bring up their Superbowl chances when they say this.  Even they aren't that delusional.  

The reason this doesn't work is because other teams, like the 49ers, aren't operating like that.  The biggest issue with restructuring to get under the cap is that the money you restructure becomes guaranteed, meaning you lose future cap flexibility, which limits your ability to keep depth players (and injuries will happen), limits your ability to sign future FAs and limits your capacity to resign your own young players, without having to give them contracts designed to be restructured, and then restructuring those.  if you're winning while this vicious cycle is playing out, your draft position sinks, meaning its harder to draft players to fill the holes you're piling up.  You can beat the patsies of the league with QB play, inconsistent players at other positions (inconsistent beats consistently awful) and little else.  You can get 6 wins with that formula, and if your QB can pull out a couple of games a year against teams you shouldn't beat, or you're playing in a historically bad division, you can get to the playoffs.  However, when you get to the playoffs, winning a round against a very good team is nearly impossible.  You just don't have the roster talent to pull it off, your not deep enough and you don't pose enough match-up problems for teams with better lines, better personel and more options.  You might get lucky, and win a round once a decade, but you'll also quickly be elimanated the very next week when the competition gets even tougher.  You can be good with perpetual restructure, you simply can never be great.  

The niners learned this the hard way fifteen years ago, and the Cowboys are experiencing the same truth today, although they don't want to admit it.  In the salary cap era, you have to pick and chose, otherwise, you will fall from the ranks of the contenders with no way back.  For teams like the cowboys, whose GM would have been fired ages ago if he were not also the owner, perpetual restructure is a powerful force that binds you to the mediocrity treadmill (Basketball term), some years, you're a little above (9-7 or 10-6 and playoffs) and other years, you're a little below (6-10 or 7-9), but you're never so bad that you're fans wear bags over their heads to games, and you're never so good that you're playing on championship day.  You are, in short, the Milwaukee Bucks.

In sports, its generally accepted (these days, anyway) that being the Milwaukee Bucks is not a good thing to be.  In fact, its probably the worst thing that you can be.  Average, with no hope of getting better, and precious little hope of getting worse and gaining the cap space and draft picks that could make you better.  In the case of the Cowboys, its even worse, because all their restructuring gives them an incentive to keep doing it: if they do bite the bullet, cleaning up the dead money on their cap, without gutting the entire roster and fielding the worst team in the history of football for a year or two, will take a very long time.  As a general rule, the longer you've been putting it off, the longer it will take you to clean up the mess, provided you don't want to go back to fielding an expansion team roster (which the niners did in 2004 and 2005, the last year of Erickson and the first year of Nolan).  

However, this process, as painful as it might be, is the only way your team will ever contend in late January and early February for anything (except the pro-bowl) ever again.  Whether you do this, or not, depends on what your goals are.  If you want to win the Superbowl, then you'd better get started, if you're fine with 10 wins every other season and an early playoff exit, keep doing what you're doing.  Frankly, as a Cowboy hater, I hope and pray that Jerry Jones never wakes up from his self-created fantasy.  Jerry Jones was the best thing to ever happen to Cowboys haters: he destroyed the relationship with Jimmy Johnson, that cost the Cowboys a Superbowl (and let the niners win their fifth ring) and since that time, he's been responsible for the Cowboys sliding into irrelevancy.  I also hope that Jed York realizes that he's best sticking to getting new stadiums built and that Harbaalke is the straw that stirs the football operations drink.
Reply | Quote
Avatar

Posted: 10/26/2013 12:47 PM

Re: the salary cap and why it matters 


Since I basically agree with the idea that the salary cap "matters" tongue I'll pick on something else you asserted that I disagree with.

soda wrote: In sports, its generally accepted (these days, anyway) that being the Milwaukee Bucks is not a good thing to be.  In fact, its probably the worst thing that you can be.  Average, with no hope of getting better, and precious little hope of getting worse and gaining the cap space and draft picks that could make you better.

Actually, in my opinion, you have that reversed. The old belief might have been that average is the worst thing to be. I think more and more these days, teams are understanding that "tanking to get better" is generally a losing proposition. It's pretty popular among min/maxing fans (either be a title contender or be the worst team and rebuild with the #1 pick), but I see very few signs that most general managers believe it.

You can start with the 49ers. When Baalke and Harbaugh took control, their plan was not to raze the team to the foundations and "start over." It was to build from what they had and improve. The recent rise of the Indiana Pacers (and, to keep things local, the Warriors, the Giants and the A's) also validate an "average is closer to great than awful is" mentality, IMO. Despite it being a fan favorite strategy, it's actually not that common to find team-builders who choose to burn down what they already have in order to be terrible and open up cap space and collect top-five draft picks.

The only recent team I can think of off-hand that has aggressively pursued that strategy is the Houston Astros. It remains to be seen, obviously, if that works--and we'll never know if that set them back in terms of time to build a contender. It's possible the Browns are trying to do that (some have certainly claimed they are) but just trading Trent Richardson doesn't show that they are...there have been plenty of reports that the new leadership didn't like Richardson much as a player and he was minimally effective in his rookie season (and even less effective since the trade).

Also, Tony Romo absolutely "counts" as a good quarterback even if he isn't elite, but that's neither here nor there. wink

Last edited 10/26/2013 1:31 PM by Minstrel

Reply | Quote

Posted: 10/26/2013 12:49 PM

Re: the salary cap and why it matters 


Just WOW Soda.  

Only thing I have to say is that SF gave Dallas a trophy or two with trading Charles Haley to a team that's only missing piece was an edge rusher.

IMO, "The Catch", doesn't compete with the bitter loses to Dallas in the early 70's with John Brodie and the battles of the late 80's & 90's.

RFTH
Reply | Quote
Avatar

Posted: 10/26/2013 7:01 PM

Re: the salary cap and why it matters 



Minstrel wrote: Since I basically agree with the idea that the salary cap "matters" tongue I'll pick on something else you asserted that I disagree with.

soda wrote: In sports, its generally accepted (these days, anyway) that being the Milwaukee Bucks is not a good thing to be.  In fact, its probably the worst thing that you can be.  Average, with no hope of getting better, and precious little hope of getting worse and gaining the cap space and draft picks that could make you better.

Actually, in my opinion, you have that reversed. The old belief might have been that average is the worst thing to be. I think more and more these days, teams are understanding that "tanking to get better" is generally a losing proposition. It's pretty popular among min/maxing fans (either be a title contender or be the worst team and rebuild with the #1 pick), but I see very few signs that most general managers believe it.

You can start with the 49ers. When Baalke and Harbaugh took control, their plan was not to raze the team to the foundations and "start over." It was to build from what they had and improve. The recent rise of the Indiana Pacers (and, to keep things local, the Warriors, the Giants and the A's) also validate an "average is closer to great than awful is" mentality, IMO. Despite it being a fan favorite strategy, it's actually not that common to find team-builders who choose to burn down what they already have in order to be terrible and open up cap space and collect top-five draft picks.

The only recent team I can think of off-hand that has aggressively pursued that strategy is the Houston Astros. It remains to be seen, obviously, if that works--and we'll never know if that set them back in terms of time to build a contender. It's possible the Browns are trying to do that (some have certainly claimed they are) but just trading Trent Richardson doesn't show that they are...there have been plenty of reports that the new leadership didn't like Richardson much as a player and he was minimally effective in his rookie season (and even less effective since the trade).

Also, Tony Romo absolutely "counts" as a good quarterback even if he isn't elite, but that's neither here nor there. wink

I actually hope that you don't think that I think that.  When I said "its generally accepted", I want to be clear that I do not accept it myself.  I'm actually on board with what you said: that sometimes, being closer to being good is good.  If you want to win something, chances are you aren't going from worst to Superbowl in one offseason, there are going to be intermediary steps.  That's one thing, another thing is that if you're bad, your coach and GM are probably on the hot seat.  There's probably pressure on the owner to turn the thing around.  Maybe you got booed at your home stadium during halftime of the jersey retirement night of a prominent former player.  In such cases, when a new "braintrust" comes in, winning right away is crucial.  Fans are sick of the high draft picks and cap space, they want to win some games.  If you can't deliver, you'll quickly be replaced by someone who can.  Winning games is the money of the realm, after all.  

This situation played out when Harbaalke took over, fans were sick of the lost decade, things needed to turn around right now, and they did.  The talent was already there, it needed to be put together.  Reid-Dorsey in KC is another example.  Without instant results, new management loses credibility with both the paying customer and the locker room quickly.  Yeah, Greg Schiano is kind of a dick, but the won-loss record caused things to snowball.  I will grant that Greg Schiano's methods are a huge part of the won-loss, so each reinforced each.  Once you get going in the wrong direction, its tough to change.  

What I would argue, though, is that sometimes, a "lost season", or two, is not a bad thing. A lost decade?  Yeah.  Perpetual mediocrity, like the Cowboys and the Bucks, yeah.  See, that's the thing with Dallas, we're not talking about a team being 8-8 a few years in a row, being close, needing to perserve a "winning culture" and such.  We're talking about a team that's been 8-8 for the better part of the last 15 years.  They had one flukey, 15-1 year, and lost in the divisional round that year (to the eventual champs).  With the cowboys, we're not talking about a team that goes 8-8 and gives its fan a legit feeling of "we'll get 'em next year."  While I agree with you that tearing something all the way down and rebuilding just because you were mediocre last year is the soul of overreaction, I also think that, eventually, if you've been on the mediocrity treadmill long enough, you have to do something to get off.  

Once every decade, or so, the Steelers have a bad year.  That doesn't mean they should tear things down for draft picks and cap space, it just means that they had a bad year.  However, if that bad year grew into ten average years in a row, then yeah, the problem is clearly bigger than random fluctuations of luck and injuries.  The problem with the NBA's version of tanking, which it seems, no other sports franchises in any of the other sports do, is that it is often the wrong cure to the wrong problem.  It is, in short, a way for management to appease fans, while at the same time cutting costs.  Yes, I meant that last statement tongue-in-cheek, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were true.  That's the problem with the internet, sometimes, I forget there's no vocal inflection in cyber-space.
Reply | Quote
Avatar

Posted: 10/26/2013 7:19 PM

Re: the salary cap and why it matters 



soda wrote:
I actually hope that you don't think that I think that.  When I said "its generally accepted", I want to be clear that I do not accept it myself.

Hmm, okay, that wasn't clear to me. I thought you were saying that average (or "mediocre" depending on how one wants to spin it) is the worst thing to be, and the Cowboys embody that.

I agree with you that if your team has been in the middle for a number of years with no upward trendline at all, you probably have to reconsider how you're doing business. I don't think any team should purposely start to get worse in order to grab the good draft picks but I have no philosophical objection to absorbing a little short-term pain to balance the books such that you have some flexibility in your team building.
Reply | Quote
Avatar

Posted: 11/02/2013 9:57 AM

Re: the salary cap and why it matters 


Hi again, I just wanted to make an update to this thread.  After last weekend's debacle against the Lions, it seems the national media is picking up on stuff I said: the Cowboys are doomed (Yay!)  To Minstrel's point, about tanking, and tearing your roster apart, to get the resources to rebuild not being a good idea, something I agree with, point, I'd say that if you've been mediocre forever, you eventually have to do something to shake yourself loose. To which, I present the following mind-numbing stat, courtesy of the our friends at foxsports and Skip Bayless of ESPN, since the 1997 season (fifteen and a half seasons worth of sample size), the Dallas Cowboys are:

132-132

Over the last fifteen and a half seasons, the Cowboys aggregate record is exactly .500, they're perfectly mediocre, completely average, they're the best there is at "meh".  This run of very long term middle-of-the-road-ness is so hard to fathom, that I do believe it is deserving of its own nickname.  From now on, I think the "mediocrity treadmill" should be called "pulling a cowboy".  We can argue over the semantics, ie, "pulling" or "averaging" or "dividing into equal halves", or "expressing perfect bilateral symmetry" etc., but you get the idea.  

Some friends of mine and I were having this discussion: why do you think the cowboys are so average, and what will it take to make them good again (note: the context of the questions was more "how can we avoid this apocalyptic situation of the cowboys being good again?  What are the signs from on-high that will allow us to know that this end is near?"  Rather than "we want the cowboys to be good again, how can we make that happen?"  It left a bad taste in my mouth just typing that last sentence, but hey, in war-time, every good general spends at least some time making sure that the enemy really is dead, and then, even more time hedging against them being dead.)  Here's the essential problem.  In the salary cap era, the Cowboys' budget is limited, that means that no matter how many seats Jerry-world is selling, and no matter how much merchandise is flying off the shelves, what you can pay for the on-field product, over the long haul, is fixed.  The instant you cut the check to someone, the full balance of that check will be counted against your salary cap.  There's no way to cut the check and have someone else pick up the tab.  

You can get rid of unguaranteed future payments by cutting or trading a player, or by restructuring, but once you sign the paycheck and the player deposits it, that's it, that money is coming out of your cap, one way or the other.  In a landscape where financial resources are (Jerry Jones would add "artificially" here) limited, wasting your own advantage gives your opposition and advantage.  Every dollar you waste, is a dollar of competitive advantage you transfer from yourself, leaving you with less relative competitive advantage.  Restructuring is one of the most wasteful forms, because it inevitably creates "dead-money", by inflating the players pro-rated signing bonus.  Every time you restructure, you inflate this total, and commit yourself to, eventually, more and more dead money.  When that bill comes due, it will result in a huge portion of your cap being wasted, which means you have to restructure others to find the resources to compete today.  Eventually, this process makes you sit out Free Agency all together, and, unless you hit it big in the draft, you're a perpetual mediocre team, at best.  

After the Detroit game, I heard some Cowboys fans saying two things, one, this is not Romo's fault (for once, I agree) and two, how did the Cowboy's secondary get so awful?  All-time single season NFL record for 400 yard passing games allowed (and its barely mid-season).  How did we get to that point?  You got to that point because your secondary is inconsistent, at best, is capable of winning some battles against sub-par opponents (like the Washington Native American Indigenous Ethnic Organization) but against teams with real receivers, you can't cover.  How did it get that way?  You don't have a pass rush, you're high draft pick has been a bust, your big salary free agent acquisition is overpaid (Carr is an above average player, whose being paid elite dollars, that's the price for failing in the draft) and because you've devoted so much to the high pick and the big FA salary, the rest of your secondary is "meh".  You're stuck, in a trap of your own making, with no easy way out that doesn't involve demolishing everything, starting again, and it taking four or five years.  

Look at SF, a team with a much better pass defense and group of CBs, and see how the niners built their team.  At CB, Cox and NA were cheap FA signings, Rogers was a cheap FA signing who the niners kept for big dollars (the has had mixed results), and Culliver, Brown and Brock were home grown players, acquired by the niners straight out of college, Morris, who looks to have a future with the team after the CB exodus this coming offseason, looks like a keeper.  He, like Brock, was an UDFA.  At Safety, Whitner was an economical FA pickup, Reid was drafted, and behind them is a mix of cheap FA pickups.  There is no one way to do it, but when you put your eggs in one basket, you expose yourself to the volatility of that basket.  

Last edited 11/02/2013 10:10 AM by soda

Reply | Quote
Avatar

Posted: 11/02/2013 2:52 PM

Re: the salary cap and why it matters 


In my opinion, eek1 I believe the salary cap has been a failure!

Every season, there are still very good, dominant teams and teams that suck. The same as before the salary cap.

There are still dynasties and perennial losers. The same as before the salary cap.

There may be a little extra shuffling around of teams but for me, not enough t
o warrant the cap.

I also believe that the cap, when instituted, adversely affected the Niners more than any other team at the time and even may have cost them a couple of championships as well as benefited other teams using players cut from the Niners due to salary cap restrictions. We finally had players and backups of star quality with an owner willing to keep it together and if not for the cap, may have done so!


Reply | Quote
Avatar

Posted: 11/02/2013 3:11 PM

Re: the salary cap and why it matters 


For grins I compared the last 19 Super Bowl and World Series champs.  There were 12 different SB champs and 11 different WS champs...not a significant difference.  But I'm sure the NFL uses a different success criteria, i.e. $$$$$.
dea49 wrote: In my opinion, eek1 I believe the salary cap has been a failure!

Every season, there are still very good, dominant teams and teams that suck. The same as before the salary cap.

There are still dynasties and perennial losers. The same as before the salary cap.

There may be a little extra shuffling around of teams but for me, not enough t
o warrant the cap.

I also believe that the cap, when instituted, adversely affected the Niners more than any other team at the time and even may have cost them a couple of championships as well as benefited other teams using players cut from the Niners due to salary cap restrictions. We finally had players and backups of star quality with an owner willing to keep it together and if not for the cap, may have done so!
Reply | Quote
Avatar

Posted: 11/03/2013 9:03 AM

Re: the salary cap and why it matters 



dea49 wrote: In my opinion, eek1 I believe the salary cap has been a failure!

Every season, there are still very good, dominant teams and teams that suck. The same as before the salary cap.

There are still dynasties and perennial losers. The same as before the salary cap.

There may be a little extra shuffling around of teams but for me, not enough t
o warrant the cap.

I also believe that the cap, when instituted, adversely affected the Niners more than any other team at the time and even may have cost them a couple of championships as well as benefited other teams using players cut from the Niners due to salary cap restrictions. We finally had players and backups of star quality with an owner willing to keep it together and if not for the cap, may have done so!

That is certainly true.  To cite but one example, without the salary cap, Eddie D would have paid whatever it took, and God would have told Reggie White to come to SF instead of GB. That could have shifted the balance of power in the NFC, right there.  Without the cap, Eddie D would have paid what it took to keep Ricky Waters and Deion Sanders in 49ers uniform, after the 94 SB team (which would have won with White anchoring the defensive line).  

Similarly, no salary cap would allow Jerry Jones and Dan Synder to spend the combined net worth or multiple Latin American Countries on player salary every year.  Those two can easily afford payrolls in excess of 225 million dollars a year.  Jerry world and the Synder new stadium make those kinds of financial outlays possible.  The niners would move into a similar situation next year.  Paul Allen, who has so much money he bought the seahawks to try to get rid of some of it, would surely join the 225+ million dollar payroll club, after all, with the stadium the hawks play in, they can afford it.  

Personally, I don't see the allure of such a scenario.  Just doesn't hold much appeal for me.  Also doesn't hold much appeal if, like baseball, your a fan of the San Diego Padres, or the Milwaukee Brewers, or KC Royals, or the Minnesota Twins, or the Oakland A's.  Also doesn't hold much appeal if your a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that built a contender on shrewd drafting and solid player acquisition strategy, and might see its postseason trump card, David Price, get traded someplace else because they can no longer afford to pay what it would take to keep him.  The biggest problem with baseball is not that the world series is not up from grabs by different teams, its that every year, there's a permanent set of teams that have no ability to compete for the crown before a single ball is pitched in spring training.  Anytime these clubs build a competitive product (like KC and Oakland have right now) your team gets ripped apart soon enough by market forces (Billy Beane's A's developed Hudson, Mulder, Zito, Giambi and Tejada, and couldn't hold onto any of them).

Competitive balance, in a sports league, is a good thing, and is essential for the long term health of the game.  You have to be able to put butts in seats, and the NFL is the one league where that's not a problem, heck, even the Raider's attendence is way up, now that they have a competitive product.  Niner's fans like to see their team win, but so do fans of other teams, and if only niner's fans ever see their team win, well, that's great for SF, its fans, and the stick/levi stadium, but the rest of the league suffers, and eventually, the niners will too.  Besides, I absolutely believe in the notion that a sports team should win, or lose, based on how well its players play, and that player acquisition strategy should be based on who makes the wisest choices and invests limited resources the most effectively, not who can cut the biggest check.  

Reply | Quote
Avatar

Posted: 11/03/2013 9:46 AM

Re: the salary cap and why it matters 



soda wrote: Besides, I absolutely believe in the notion that a sports team should win, or lose, based on how well its players play, and that player acquisition strategy should be based on who makes the wisest choices and invests limited resources the most effectively, not who can cut the biggest check.  

I agree with that. My ideal system, though, would probably be to have uncapped salary on players you drafted and a cap on payroll of players you sign or trade for that's the same for every team. That way, a team that does a great job of drafting can reap the benefits.

That said, I don't mind the system the NFL currently uses. While I'd like, say, the 49ers to be able to keep every good player they drafted (since it's to their credit that they drafted well), I also think it's a show of skill in determining which players you keep and which you don't and that's a fascinating aspect of roster building, too.
Reply | Quote