CBA Suggestion Number 5: Reinstitute Salary Cap Minimum Spending

In the prior (2006-2012) CBA, teams were required to allocate a certain amount of costs to their salary cap every season. The 2011 CBA scrapped this rule in favor of allowing teams to “carry over” unlimited amounts of salary cap room to future seasons. The results, in general, have been more negative than positive. With teams having gigantic amounts of cap carryover compared to moderate amounts in the prior CBA, teams are finding it much easier to release players or decide to take a year or two off from the market, so they can load up at a later date. Teams have the ability to carry players on the franchise/transition tag with no problems giving them incredible leverage in negotiations.  The salary cap was also designed to bring some parity to the league and that is rarely happening these days so if they want to make it meaningful they have to bring changes to it.

While guarantees are obviously the ultimate form of protection for a player, the structure of a contract can often help dictate a players’ ability to keep a roster spot following a season in which he looks as if he is declining. Putting teams in a position where they have to use large signing bonuses to fit a player within the salary cap puts significant pressure on a team because of the dead money associated with the release. That pressure only exists if a team, however, is tight against the salary cap. When teams are looking at future ledgers with $50 and $60 million or more in cap room the fact is there is no pressure.

The issues with cap room should also pressure teams to extend deserving rookies in or before their fifth year option seasons kick in and certainly if they are a potential franchise/transition tag candidate because of the pain it puts on the cap. While it may seem counterintuitive to think less cap room can equal more lucrative contracts we can just point you to quarterback Joe Flacco. The Baltimore Ravens salary cap was a mess and they were afraid of losing Flacco in free agency even if they could handle his tag. Flacco wound up negotiating one of the best contracts ever for a player. Teams will always find a way to pay players that they want to keep. The Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints are just two current examples of teams that are always finding ways to spend despite seemingly never having cap space.

We are also not sure if the current system is doing what it was supposed to do in providing more and more opportunities for teams to win a division. Here is the breakdown of the percentage of teams that won at least one division title, two division titles, and at least four division titles in an eight (8) year span (except in the early 70’s period which was just 7 seasons). We have disregarded the 1982 strike season and 2010 uncapped season.

Seasons% Teams Winning A Division% Winning Multiple Divisions% Dominant Teams
2011 to 2018:71.9%59.4%12.5%
2002 to 2009:81.3%46.9%21.9%
1994 to 2001:83.9%41.9%6.5%
1986 to 1993:78.6%42.9%14.3%
1977 to 1985:71.4%46.4%14.3%
1970 to 1976:53.8%38.5%23.1%

The current CBA began in 2011 and the number of teams winning at least one division championship has fallen all the way down to about 72%, which was the level back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Considering that the NFL added two more divisions since then (meaning in theory it should be easier for more teams to be represented) this is a pretty low number. These numbers are certainly down from the initial CBA eras that saw the numbers move into the 80% range. The initial run on the cap, which did somewhat bring down the potential “dynasty teams” in the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, was probably partially responsible for the big fall in the percentage of dominant teams, but that number did skyrocket in the 2002 era which was the “return of the QB” timeframe as well as the first real, in our opinion, disparity between teams having an idea of how to work within the salary cap and had long term visions versus those that were just trying to make things work each season with no long term idea of what they were doing.

Our feeling is if teams were required to spend somewhere between 90 and 95% of the cap (meaning carryovers this year would not exceed $17 million) you would eventually see more players get to free agency and better overall structured contracts for the players leading to a more competitive field of teams each year. Otherwise it’s almost at the point where the salary cap really isn’t doing anything beyond creating an artificial spending limit and giving us things to discuss in the offseason.