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Ruminations On The Future Of The Salary Cap

Mike Florio reported yesterday for Pro Football Talk that a source—who already predicted that the salary cap would exceed the originally projected amounts of $126.3, and subsequently $130 million—also believes that the salary cap figure will ultimately exceed the newly projected amount of $132 million.

Perhaps significantly so, by a “few million”, suggesting possibly $134-136, or a more than $10 million increase over last season. Florio went on to write that the source indicated these significant increases are “expected to become the trend in future years”, indicating that the cap could quickly exceed, for example, $150 in just a few short years.

I have been pondering the implications of such a significant and frequent increase, and wondering at what point it makes the salary cap irrelevant.

After all, there is a point at which even the richest and most generous owners will acknowledge that a salary does not equal the value of the performance given in compensation, regardless of whether or not it becomes a cap issue.

And some owners simply don’t like to spend all that much, and frequently have tens of millions of dollars in cap space remaining year to year. At what point does the salary cap become an arbitrary ceiling that nobody will reach?

How far off is that point from where we are now? Are we in danger of in effect turning the NFL into the uncapped MLB, which has a far greater correlation between how much a team spends and how successful that franchise is in any given season?

But that is just one aspect of the implications that could result from the ramifications of this report, and this one may still be far off from now. Inevitably, there will be other effects on how the business is run on a team level.

As mentioned earlier, I believe that teams will by and large self-police themselves by keeping upper-value contracts at a comparatively reasonable level. I don’t foresee quarterbacks making $50 million a season any time soon, for example. There is simply a point at which the expenditure doesn’t justify the product delivered in return.

What I do believe will happen is that, rather than radically reshaping the dollar amount of high-value contracts, the successive and significant increases in the salary cap will result in more numerous high-value contracts.

In a sense, this could result in a bit of a throwback to the pre-free agency era of the league, during which it was much easier for teams to keep their players together for a much longer period of time.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are just one of many organizations during the 90s that struggled with losing players to free agency that they would otherwise love to keep around. We now saw over the course of the past few seasons the price that a team could be forced to pay trying to keep a core together.

While it likely won’t prevent the Mike Wallace-type players of the league from fleeing for ‘greener’ pastures, it could, for example, help the Steelers retain the next Keenan Lewis or Jason Worilds.

And more to the point, I believe that this would specifically benefit teams with strong organizations and a coach that players want to play for. The Steelers would theoretically be one of those teams, certainly.

For now, we don’t yet even know what the salary cap for the 2014 season will be officially. That naturally makes this all very speculative at this point. But given the significant ramifications it could have if Florio’s source is to be trusted, it seems worth discussing.

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