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Salary cap becomes a factor once again


It had been so long since teams were scrambling to make moves in order to get under the annual spending limit that we’d almost forgotten the dynamic of restructured contracts and pay cuts and players being released prematurely.

But it’s back, thanks in large part to a salary cap that has gotten lower with the arrival of a new labor deal. The Steelers have provided the first example of the scramble to get under the maximum by March 13, the first day of the new league year. By that day, the 51 highest-paid players must have combined cap numbers less than the total spending limit. Before making a flurry of moves this week, the Steelers were more than $25 million over the 2012 limit.

As it relates to the Raiders, Jerry McDonald of calls the salary cap a “myth.” To an extent, he’s right; the question of whether a player stays with the Raiders or any team ultimately will be driven by performance. But cap number has once again become a factor. If a player’s contract carries numbers that outweigh his perceived value, action will be needed -- up to and including a divorce.

But cutting a player won’t always be the answer. Dumping a contract has consequences, via the acceleration of prorated cap values resulting from a signing bonus. In some cases, the cap number actually goes up when the player is released.

As to cornerback Stanford Routt, the Raiders acted now in order to avoid owing him another $5 million guaranteed in 2012. But the Raiders will still have to account for $7.452 million in dead money at some point, arising from a $9.315 million payment to Routt from last year that was spread over five seasons.

The point for now is that the reduction of the salary cap resulting from the new CBA has resurrected terms and concepts that had been largely irrelevant for several years. And it becomes even more important to have in-house experts who can figure it all out.