We've reached a day that none of us thought we'd ever see. The end of Ladainian Tomlinson's Charger career, followed by Brian Westbrook's Eagles career coming to a close. These players were two of the top running back thrats over the last decade, with LT climbing the running back records book in relation to NFL history. The moves came as more of a confirmation that money plays a part in team make up than as an ode to their abilities. Surely LT and Westbrook would have been kept had money not been an issue. But with each due a hefty roster bonus and bloated salary figure when accounting for their (lack of) production, the logical choice was to cut them.
This is the business side of the NFL, a side that LT and Westbrook both acknowledged publicly. It's a side that we often forget as fans, that while the NFL may provide hours and weeks of entertainment, it is a business at its core. The players we love and root for are nothing more than walking dollar signs to most teams. We felt the pain when John Lynch and Warren Sapp were sent packing, and that wound was forcibly drawn open with the news that Derrick Brooks would become an ex-Buccaneer.
While we take in the gravity of the changing face of the NFL, it's important to recognize the new rules in place. If we continue on the same path that we are currently on, the NFL will feature no salary cap in 2010. We've discussed this at length and have now braced for what we perceive to be a future of lower spending. While this new era will allow NFL owners to spend at their discretion, it also allows them to rectify any mistakes they've made in the contract world. Players that are signed to huge deals with big bonuses and even larger salaries may need to watch ESPN to see if they are being cut.
You see, in a typical NFL world with a salary cap, bonus and salary money affect the day to day cap. To give you a simplistic example, lets assume Player A is signed to a 5 year deal worth $10 million in salary and a $20 million dollar signing bonus. The cap figure is assessed by taking his salary each year (and lets assume that the $10MM is paid out evenly over 5 years at $2MM a year) and then having the pro-rated bonus hit the cap. In our example that would mean that in Year 1, Player A cost $6MM in cap dollars, $2MM from salary ($10MM divided by 5 years) and $4MM from bonus ($20MM divided by 5 years, even though the bonus was paid up front). If Player A gets cut before year 2, the team owes him no other salary (as long as it wasn't guaranteed) but must accelerate the bonus hit and take it all in the year they cut him. This means that even though Player A did not play for the team in year 2, he would count as $16MM (the remaining pro-rated bonus money) against the cap. Quite a hit huh?
Well, that becomes an obvious problem in years with a cap. How can you justify cutting someone and having them still crush your cap? Those players are often kept, much to the dismay of the team, or cut when the cap his is manageable. For the record, the same rules apply on trades as we saw a bigger cap hit when the late Gaines Adams was traded. Luckily (or not), the Bucs had extra cap room to facilitate the trade and acceleration of his bonus money.
But as this is a business, the rules have changed, and from an owner's perspective, I fully expect teams to take advantage of it where possible. The high priced players that perform like D-II backups may find their stay on an NFL roster to be a short one. With no cap, and by my understanding, there is nothing from keeping owners and general managers from dumping these players. The bonus money has been paid in most cases, and its just a matter of taking a cap hit, and what better year to take a massive cap hit when there is no salary cap. That $16MM we talked about above that would have impeded a team last year, has no bearing this year. Afterall, the money has been paid, so its just a matter of having the cap hit spread over a few years (on roster) or all at once (if cut or traded).
I would like to mention that the CBA is a huge document full of "legal-ese" type wording. I believe the above info is true, but it certainly may not be the gospel. But based on my reading and understanding, as well as lack of information otherwise, it seems that this may be the day of redemption some franchises need. I would imagine that a new CBA will be in place for the 2011 season and that some sort of cap will be back in place. This would mean the owners have a one year shot at fixing some past mistakes.
As always, please drop your thoughts below, and if you have any comments or questions on either the CBA or perhaps a correction for yours truly, don't hesitate to speak up.