Salary plan will help, hurt these teams
Proposed changes to cap and floor would liberate some to spend but squeeze others
One of the issues that helped bring the players closer to the owners in labor discussions was changing the amount of money teams must spend during a season.
In the now-expired collective bargaining agreement, teams were required to invest about 86 percent of their salary cap in cap dollars. That was called the payroll floor in the old CBA. A few teams created phony incentives that they never planned to pay just to get over the payroll floor and then pocketed the unspent money.
Hoping to get a deal, owners in the past few weeks upgraded a proposal that changed the formula. On March 11, owners were willing to set the floor at 90 percent of the salary cap in cash. Now, they are willing to make the floor close to 100 percent of the salary cap.
Thus, if the salary cap is around $120 million this year, teams would have to put close to that amount of money in cash to meet the minimum payroll requirements. Using numbers from my 2011 salary database, let's look at the teams affected the most if this system went into effect.
Overall there is more than $500 million of cap room available, and the average payroll of a team is $92 million.
Teams affected positively:
1. Washington Redskins: Owner Dan Snyder gave defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and cornerback DeAngelo Hall around $36 million in bonus money in 2010 to free up room to be a big spender in free agency in 2011. Snyder and Mike Shanahan will have to be creative in how they structure contracts, because the $120 million cap would give them only around $10 million of cap room. On the positive side, the Redskins' current payroll is $75.7 million, meaning Snyder would have to spend close to $45 million in cash to meet the potential minimum floor requirements. Imagine a system that forces Snyder to spend.
2. Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals are in great position to be players in free agency and the trade market. They have $37.38 million of cap room along with a current payroll of $85.76 million. They have the fourth most cap room of any team in football, giving them plenty of incentive to trade for quarterback Kevin Kolb and give him a huge long-term contract.
3. Seattle Seahawks: General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll could go on a spending spree. They have $39 million of cap room and a payroll of $83 million. To meet the NFL payroll floor, the Seahawks would have to spend $37 million. They need a veteran left guard, so that leaves plenty of room to go for Raiders left guard Robert Gallery. They offered Matt Hasselbeck $7 million in a one-year deal. They could easily afford to bring him back and then make deals at other positions to upgrade their roster.
5. Philadelphia Eagles: Among last year's playoff teams, the Eagles may have one of the best chances to upgrade their roster and bring in stars. They have $13 million of cap room, and their payroll is a modest $95 million. They could try to bring in defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, wide receiver Plaxico Burress and maybe running back Reggie Bush if the price were right. They would have enough cap flexibility to even go for Nnamdi Asomugha or a top cornerback, if they like.
Teams affected negatively:
1. Cincinnati Bengals: Frugal owner Mike Brown loves having a low payroll. He has to like having a payroll of $77.2 million along with $35.9 million of cap room. Quarterback Carson Palmer is expected to sit out the season, taking $11.5 million off the books. If the Bengals cut or trade wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, they would save an additional $6.35 million. In order to get to the proposed floor, the Bengals would have to spend close to $60.65 million in free agency, re-signings and the draft. That's too big a budget for the Bengals.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Management has done a great job of handling its cap and building a good, young team that won 10 games last season. With youth comes low salaries, though, and ownership would have to dole out some huge amounts of cash to comply with the possible change in the floor. The Bucs' payroll is a league-low $63.8 million. They have $52.9 million of cap room. Many of their good, young players are too young to lock into long-term contract extensions. The Bucs would be forced to dabble in the free-agent market more than they probably would like.
3. Oakland Raiders: Owner Al Davis was aggressive in re-signing eight players for contracts totaling $85.48 million. But if the cap is at $120 million, the Raiders may have issues. If new cap rules exclude some $26 million in "dead" money for players whose contracts were voided to make them free agents this year, that would help. If accounting rules include the "dead" money, the Raiders would be $14.78 million over the cap and would have to cut some players. Their payroll of $103.2 million isn't out of line, but the "dead" money issue could cause them problems if it isn't cleared up.
4. Dallas Cowboys: Owner Jerry Jones made sure his team wouldn't be ripped apart during tough labor times. He's always aggressive in re-signing his top players. But the Cowboys are currently a minimum of $18.9 million over the salary cap, which could spell doom for right tackle Marc Colombo, wide receiver Roy Williams and others. Jones also has to come up with some room to re-sign left tackle Doug Free and others.
5. New York Jets: Rex Ryan and the Jets have a lot of work to do. They want to bring back cornerback Antonio Cromartie, wide receivers Santonio Holmes, Brad Smith and Braylon Edwards and some key role players. To do that, they will have to clear out some cap room. The Jets are $1.3 million over the salary cap and have the league's highest payroll at $123.85 million. General manager Mike Tannenbaum has always worked the cap like a puzzle. He would be especially challenged by a $120 million cap.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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