While the two sides are
talking, let me weigh in with a few suggestions to make the CBA fairer than
Eliminate Incentive Pay
Fans love incentive-laced
contracts because they give us confidence that players are actually earning
their pay. In fact, I think incentive pay is horribly unfair. Shaun Alexander
wins extra pay for rushing for great yardage, but what does Steve Hutchinson
get for clearing space for him at an All-Pro level? Football is the ultimate
team sport, yet only players who deal in “measurables” qualify for
The other problem with incentive
pay is that it turns salary cap calculations into a hair-splitting nightmare.
Incentives are currently distinguished between “likely-to-be-earned”
and (drum roll please….) “NOT-likely to be earned”. If an
incentive is “likely-to-be-earned” and yet isn’t earned, the
team can roll the unearned dollars into the following year. Through sly manipulation,
the Minnesota Vikings rolled FOURTEEN MILLION DOLLARS from 2003 into 2004. Other
teams have used the same method, but the Vikings abused this clause to such
an extent that it just needs to end.
Give teams a break from “dead cap-space”
If a team releases a player
in the off-season, any bonuses that were scheduled to pro-rate into future years
accelerate onto the current season. After June 1, that acceleration is pushed
into the following season. Every year some teams are non-competitive because
they pay the price for the excessive bonuses previously paid to non-productive
If a team signs a player
to a five year contract, why not just keep the bonus spread over 5 years? Why
accelerate at all? Teams would still be very careful about how they invested
their dollars. After all, would the Seahawks really pay Grant Wistrom $14 million
if they knew he’d still be showing up on their cap list 3 years after
he was released? Teams should be penalized for paying the wrong players, but
too often the penalty is all-consuming in one season and fans that buy tickets
for that team are given little hope.
One compromise would be
to subtract a teams’ unused cap space in a given year from it’s
total accumulated dead-cap. Let’s say the Seahawks in 2004 only used $80
million of the $81 million total cap. The $1 million at the end of the season
would reduce the dead contracts they’ve been piling up since the beginning
of the previous season. The end result would be a softer cap, but a cap where
all teams could be competitive in any give year if they CHOSE to be. No more
excuses from cap-strapped teams. It would also make teams better able to sign
their OWN players in any give off-season which leads me to my next suggestion
Eliminate the Franchise Tags
Admittedly, this plea comes
from a Seahawk fan who just sick and tired of the Walter Jones drama year in
and year out. I’m ready to give big Walt a break and say if he doesn’t
want to stay here, I don’t want to force him.
The franchise tag was implemented
in 1993 as an assurance to teams and fans that the very best players wouldn’t
leave in free agency. In essence, it gave everybody a soft landing into the
new world order of free agency. It made everybody feel better at the time.
I’m hoping we can
all agree that its time has passed. The franchise tag is used more for leverage
than it is to truly keep a team’s best layers. We need to just let it
go, and force teams to compete for their own best players. I know it may never
happen, but I’ll be happy if it does.
Standardize Rookie Contracts
The rookie pool works pretty
well right now. There are definitely fewer rookie holdouts then there were in
the past, but teams are still being asked to pay huge dollars for un-proven
players. To me the biggest issue comes with top-5 draft picks who command bigger
salaries than existing veterans. Kellen Winslow Jr. may be a great tight end
some day, but he isn’t now, and shouldn’t be paid like he is. The
New York Giants feel enormous pressure to get Eli Manning on the field, because
of the dollars that are invested in him.
The problem lies not so
much in the rookie pool limits, which seem fair to me, but in the numerous contract
gadgets (including incentives which I’ve already eliminated) that pump
the overall value of the deals. The most expensive gadget it the “option
bonus”, which is normally paid in year two and can change all the terms
that previously existed in the deal. No more options bonuses for rookies. Agents
who represent rookies hate this idea because the option bonus is the staple
upon which first round deals are based. I understand that. That’s why
I want them gone.
A few other tweaks to rookie
deals: 3rd through 7th round picks should all have standard 3 year deals. 2nd
round picks are 4 years and 1st round picks are 5 years. The “Deion Rule”,
which affects contracts that extend into uncapped years, shouldn’t apply
to rookies. All of these changes would reduce dead-cap space relating to rookies.
As I said above, I HATE dead-cap space.
By the way, if we reduce
dollars paid to rookies, where does that extra money go? To VETERAN PLAYERS.
The players who have PROVEN THEY CAN PLAY. All kinds of provision have been
suggested to save the veteran players from being cut due to cap considerations,
but to me the best solution is to stop tying up so much cash in unproven rookies.
And there’s no easy
way to say this, but my last suggestion for the new collective bargaining agreement
LET FANS KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON
The NFL and the NFLPA have
been on some sort of strange mission to hide salary information from fans and
the media. This policy is tremendously unproductive for two reasons. The first
is that fans are the ones paying the salaries. OK, I understand that we’re
not REALLY paying the salaries. Just because I pay my garbage bill doesn’t
mean I have a right to know how much the garbage man makes, but pro sports is
different. Fans have a right to know because they WANT to know.
The other reason is the
NFL is a 12-month a year product. After the Super Bowl until the start of training
camp, the salary cap is the scorecard of the off-season. Fans are told throughout
the off-season that this team or that team can (or can’t) afford this
or that player and yet we have no way of knowing who’s telling the truth.
Seahawk fans debated for months if we over-paid Grant Wistrom, but very few
could discuss the issue with all the facts at hand. Imagine sitting in the stadium
with no scoreboard. That’s how the average fan feels about the off-season.
Believe me, we WANT to know the score. The most common question I get is “how
much cap-space do we have?”. Most of the time even I’m not even
sure, and I follow this question closer than any Seahawk fan in history.
So, I’m calling on
the NFL and the NFLPA to open up all salaries, bonuses, and cap-figures for
any fan to scrutinize and complain about. Put me out of business. I’ll
be the happiest fan of all.
"The Hawkstorian" writes about Seahawks history, the salary cap,
and many other things for Seahawks.NET on an alarmingly regular basis. You can
reach him at email@example.com.