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Cap crunch will highlight cash gap between classes of NFL players


Regardless of the total percentage of revenue that has ended up in the pockets of the players since the new labor deal was reached in 2011, the salary cap hasn’t gone up much over the last three league years. In 2012, the NFLPA was forced to agree to $46 million in cap penalties for the Redskins and Cowboys merely to ensure that the team-by-team cap number would go up, not down. (And if the cap number had gone down, a mutiny would have ensued.)

This year, the increase will be modest again, despite past claims from the NFLPA that cap growth will not be primarily flat. And that has spawned a new argument from the union and some agents: The cap doesn’t matter and teams who want to spend will find a way to spend.

It’s accurate, to an extent. A fairly hard cap remains in place. While it’s possible to spend cash above the cap in any given year, every dollar given to a player must eventually be accounted for under the cap. And with the cap not going up very much, more and more teams are in cap crunches every year -- something that rarely happened under the 2006 CBA.

The next argument is that teams can create cap space if they want to. And that’s entirely accurate. As long as teams are willing to squeeze certain players with existing contracts to take less money, to shift their money around, or to cut veteran players prematurely.

In other words, teams are now actually robbing Peter to pay Paul, with “Peter” being a guy who once was “Paul,” and “Paul” being a guy who may eventually be “Peter.” The process will further highlight the gap between a small handful of star players who will have enormous payouts and cap numbers and the collection of players who actually play in games but who get far less money.

So with Joe Flacco cashing in, other players will be cashing out. Or cashing less.The new dynamic becomes crystal clear between Flacco and the guy who has snapped him the ball for the last four years, Matt Birk. With Flacco swinging for the financial fences, the Ravens may not be able to afford Birk’s $2.75 million salary.And with both guys represented by Joe Linta, at a certain point Linta’s push to get one of his clients as much as possible is going to hurt one of his other clients.Other agents will be facing similar dilemmas in other cities. While, in the end, the teams control how much they pay to their various players, the NFL now consists of four crops of players: veterans who get paid a whole lot of money, veterans who get paid well and who have to worry constantly about being forced to take less, veterans who get the one-year minimum, and young players laboring under tightly-controlled rookie deals who look forward to the day when they can become veterans who get paid a whole lot of money.