Could No Cap be Good for the NFL?

Despite some of the doom and gloom predictions you might have seen, the lack of a salary cap might be good for the NFL.

The most compelling argument for the salary cap is that it has led to a level of parity where all 32 teams have a realistic shot at winning the Super Bowl. But, in reality, all the salary cap has done is keep players from earning their market value. Instead revenue sharing and the short schedule have created the current level of parity in the NFL (if parity even exists).

The best teams over the past decade have been the teams that do the best job of scouting and coaching their talent (i.e. Pats, Bucs) not the teams that have tried to buy every player on the market (i.e. 'Skins). This applies to every sport, the best managed teams are the teams that are the most successful. Instead, what the cap has done is punish the teams which have done a good job of scouting young talent.

Every team knows it has a narrow window to make the Super Bowl before their team falls apart. The Bucs managed to win the big game before their window closed, while the Eagles failed to, and the Colts may fail to win the Super Bowl before their window closes.

Mort Anderson made this argument on ESPN Radio this morning, pointing out that quality of play in the league has decreased since the creation of a salary cap. Frequently teams are forced to get rid of their more expensive veterans which means they have to start less experienced rookies. If the Bucs didn't have a salary cap they would still have John Lynch, Warren Sapp and Dwight Smith.

So if the salary cap is not the reason for the NFL's parity, then how do we account for the ability of teams like the Bears to go from 5 wins to 12 the next season? One of the better answers I have seen has to do with the number of games played in a season.

The NFL plays far fewer games per season than any other league. As a result, dumb luck plays a bigger role in the NFL than in the NBA or MLB. Off hand, I can think of three plays that, had they gone the other way, would have kept the Bucs out of the playoffs.

  1. Detroit- If the Marcus Pollard catch at the end had been ruled a touchdown the Bucs would have lost.
  2. Washington- If Alstott had been a foot short on the two point conversion the Bucs would have lost.
  3. Atlanta- In the second game against the Falcons if the Bucs had not blocked the field goal in overtime they would have lost.
On the other hand, baseball teams play 162 games a season which ensures the best teams advance to the postseason (which is also limited to just 8 teams as opposed to the 12 NFL teams which advance to the playoffs). I'm not suggesting that the NFL add more games to its schedule, but I don't think the salary cap is as important to the NFL as we have been lead to believe.


Scott said...

ski, you know I respect you, right? So you know I only say this out of love: Please get some help for your crack addiction.

>what the cap has done is punish the teams which have done a good job of scouting young talent.

Huh? You think no cap would allow players to stay with their teams? What it would do in actuality is exploit small-market teams with good scouting departments. Without a cap, the more wealthy teams could basically cut their scouting departments and just harvest the best players from the other teams when they become UFAs. The cap makes all teams compete evenly for the best talent.

The cap has been used as an excuse to jettison players, but look at your examples. Lynch was cut because he wanted to continue to start and Kiffin thought it was time for Phillips to take over. Sapp was not offered a new contract because he is abrasive in the locker room and has lost a step. Smith was not offered a new contract because he wanted to be a corner and Kiffin thought he was better as a safety. Turns out he's playing safety in New Orleans, but that's not the point. If the team had REALLY wanted to, they could have made it work with any of them within the cap. True, honest-to-god cap casualties are not all that common. Usually, the cap is what the team tells the public. There is generally more to the story.

>Mort Anderson made this argument on ESPN Radio this morning, pointing out that quality of play in the league has decreased since the creation of a salary cap.

This is very subjective. Quality of play? By who's standards? What is the measuring stick? Players are in better shape now than they ever have been because of the year-round nature of the game. Competition is fierce, so players have to train harder, be stronger and faster than they every were. Remember in the 70s when the off-season meant you could eat doughnuts for five months straight? If anything has led to a perceived decline in play, I would say it has more to do with the rules that favor offense that have taken the bite out of the game. All the helmet stuff and rules to protect the QB and pass interference nonsense are taking some of the wind out of the sails of gameplay and players can't really show off their talents. The cap is not preventing the best players from playing. Keep in mind, the highest priced players can always lower their price.

The league needs the cap. It has its flaws, but so does any system. And I, personally, think it's a better game with the cap than without it.

Ski said...

scott, I'm glad you responded because obviously my argument is not a perfect one or else it would have already been implememnted.

let me be clear, you have to pair the salary cap with revenue sharing. otherwise the packers (and other small market teams)would never be able compete for the super bowl.

and something which I didn't mention in my post is the importance of keeping the franchise and transitional player tags (and restricted free agency). both allows teams to keep their big name free agents (at a fairly expensive price). while this argument is rendered fairly moot by the emergence of cadillac, warrick dunn might still be in tampa if the bucs had the cash to match the falcons offer.

would no cap have guaranteed that any of the previously named players would have stayed in tampa? I have no idea, but I think it's an argument worth considering.

and yes, determining the quality of play is incredibly subjective (that's part of the reason I mentioned Mort) but there's something to the argument that teams are often forced to start inexperienced rookies since they are cheaper options over older veterans. There are rumors that the 'skins may be forced to sign 20 rookies (I think the number is high but you get the point) to get under the salary cap.

scott, you're right these are two fairly large holes in my post, but my main argument remains the same, the salary cap has little effect on parity. if you instituted greater revenue sharing and shortened the schedule to 30 games (or so) everybody would be talking about the level of parity in MLB.