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.
- Detroit- If the Marcus Pollard catch at the end had been ruled a touchdown the Bucs would have lost.
- Washington- If Alstott had been a foot short on the two point conversion the Bucs would have lost.
- Atlanta- In the second game against the Falcons if the Bucs had not blocked the field goal in overtime they would have lost.