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Thursday, March 4, 2004
Searching for the salary cap

By Jason Whitlock
Page 2 columnist

Each year that Daniel Snyder owns the Washington Redskins, it becomes more difficult for me to believe in the NFL's "salary cap."

The Cap might as well be the Tooth Fairy, Bigfoot or The Loch Ness Monster. The Cap is widely discussed. Mature, intelligent men swear they see it on a daily basis. Some NFL fans believe their franchise has been swallowed whole by it. But I've never seen concrete proof that The Cap exists. And neither has Daniel Snyder.

Clinton Portis
Daniel Snyder had no problem paying big bucks for Clinton Portis.
He spends and spends each offseason, taunting and baiting this allegedly-lethal Cap. Snyder is the great Cap hunter. He's Captain Ahab in search of Moby Dick, and Wednesday's kickoff of the NFL's free-agency period means it's whaling season. Snyder, in hopes of luring The Cap, has dumped lots of blood in Washington's water.

Even with promising, second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey already under contract, Snyder handed veteran Mark Brunell more than $40 million to lead Joe Gibbs' offense. Snyder traded for Denver running back Clinton Portis, sending Pro Bowl corner Champ Bailey to the Broncos. Portis, with three years left on his Denver contract, had no negotiating leverage. Still, Snyder made Portis the highest-paid running back in the game.

Seriously, where's The Cap?

I realize Dan Snyder has never won anything during his five years of Cap hunting. I realize New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, frugal by Snyder's standards, has a far more effective plan for winning the Super Bowl. I'm not suggesting that all NFL owners should adopt Snyder's approach.

I just want proof that there is a salary cap. Oh, I've heard about the teams that have allegedly had their rosters gutted by The Cap. Football fans in San Francisco swear that one offseason, The Cap ran wild in The Bay and so spooked the G.O.A.T -- Greatest Of All Time, Jerry Rice -- that Rice moved to Oakland and started wearing a corn-over hairstyle. According to legend, it was to ward off The Cap.

Yeah, every offseason, there are wild stories about The Cap. They're like UFO sightings. No one ever has a clear picture of The Cap. All they'll show you is a grainy, shadowy image that you can't really make out, but they point excitedly and say, "There it is!"

There what is?

"The Cap!" they scream. "The Redskins released their 53-year-old, backup defensive end to make room in the salary cap."

No. Bruce Smith was retiring, anyway. He should've retired two years ago. That's not a Cap move. Orlando Pace forced Bruce Smith out of the game with a pancake block in Week 6 of the 2001 season.

If The Cap exists, how do you explain the Denver Broncos? They reportedly went into this offseason in a salary-cap pinch. When Clinton Portis flapped his gums to the Denver Post's Adam Schefter about wanting a new contract, the Broncos claimed they didn't have the Cap room to accommodate Portis. But two weeks later, they magically found room to accommodate Champ Bailey's $63 million contract.

To me, The Cap is a tool created by the owners so -- if they choose -- they can have an excuse to be fiscally responsible. If they want to be irresponsible, they can circumvent The Cap by giving players large sums of guaranteed money in the form of signing bonuses. A signing bonus doesn't impact the salary cap the way a player's yearly salary does.

Daniel Snyder
Joe Gibbs must love the deep pockets Daniel Snyder has.
Ah, but those are details. The bottom line is that Dan Snyder doesn't mind forking over lots and lots of his own cash. He passes out phat signing bonuses the way Ronald McDonald hands out cheeseburgers. Daniel Snyder's bank account has never seen The Cap. And neither have I.

There are no definitive photos of The Cap, but people still describe it in great detail. And it isn't just football fans. Respected journalists tell vivid stories about the devastation caused by The Cap. John Clayton, Adam Teicher, Jim Trotter, Peter King, Vic Carruci, Jay Glazer, Adam Schefter, Jim Thomas, Clarence Hill, Howard Balzer and other NFL scribes once held an all-day seminar to discuss The Cap. They had a short video presentation that allegedly contained highlights of The Cap savagely attacking Emmitt Smith inside Jerry Jones' office. The images were so gruesome many of the writers reportedly turned their heads away from the video screen.

"I lost all respect for Jerry Jones after seeing those pictures," one witness told me. "You could hear Emmitt begging for help and crying out that he would sign with Arizona. Jerry Jones just laughed."

What did The Cap look like?

"It was huge, tall and white," the witness said. "A big midsection, straight white hair. Emmitt kept yelling that it smells like tuna."

(Repeated requests to obtain a copy of the video were denied by the Pro Football Writers Association.)

Jason Whitlock is a columnist for the Kansas City Star (kcstar.com) and a regular contributor on ESPN The Magazine's Sunday morning edition of "The Sports Reporters." He also hosts an afternoon radio show, "The Doghouse," on Kansas City's 61 Sports KCSP. He can be reached at ballstate68@aol.com.