The League

Doug Farrar
Writer

Doug Farrar

A FootballOutsiders.com staff writer

NFL Cap and Switch

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I think there are two factors that have caused the dichotomy between the haves and the have-nots. First, there's the simple fact that the salary cap, that formerly restrictive personnel spending provision, isn't really a cap anymore -- at best, it's one of those visors that Steve Suprrier so loved to wear. Like a visor, it looks practical and effective in the front, but it's got no structure up top. When the cap was put in place for the 1994, each team had a limit of $34.6 million. In 2009, which could be the final capped year ever if a new Collective Bargaining Agreement isn't put in place, the cap is $128 million. The only way you'd find a $128 million payroll restrictive is if you were writing checks for the Yankees, Mets, or Red Sox. And remember -- this isn't like baseball, where one team can spend like crazy and other teams can put out pittances. The NFL also has salary floors, which in 2009, was 87.6 percent, or $112.1 million. NFL revenue has increased drastically in the last decade, in large part due to the competitive balance the cap provides (and revenue sharing facilitates), but the league is starting to become the superhero that was destroyed by its most effective power.

If you're Lions owner William Clay Ford, and you have someone like Matt Millen spending all that money on your behalf for almost a decade, you're going to get the kind of disaster that it takes years to escape. Similarly, if you're Al Davis, and you're financing a circus with millions in league contributions, it may seem as if you're actually being rewarded for your incompetence. The status quo stays put, and the people who have no business running these franchises get free pass after free pass because they're making money hand over fist and they're doing it in a sport that people find so overwhelmingly addictive, they'll watch the worst possible version if that's all they can get.

The other factor that I believe has altered competitive balance is a switch from a coaching-led league to an NFL in which general managers and team presidents want and get more of the power. This is why you see a trend toward younger and less-experienced coaches. With this new system comes wildly divergent success and failure stories -- for every John Harbaugh, Mike Smith and Tony Sparano, there's a Tom Cable, Jim Zorn and Raheem Morris, guys who seem to be in way over their heads. Never in league history have there been so many eminently qualified coaches on the sidelines with little in the way of interest as the NFL goes younger with its coaches. 20 years ago, any team would have cast a Zorn aside for a Holmgren or a Shanahan. Now, owners seem to want the coach to reflect the administration, not the other way around. Depending on the administration, that's not always the best idea. Sometimes, you need a coach good enough to transcend the foibles of his GM, and vice versa.

Does a bigger gap between the best and worst make the game better or more interesting? I'm not sure, though I imagine it's a great relief for everyone who bemoans the parity ideal. I'd prefer a league in which teams were rewarded for intelligence and penalized for failure in ways that don't actually hurt the sport, but I fear were going away from that to a more arbitrary model, where big markets and big bucks trump success from the outside in. The current pulling away from parity is merely the first step in that particular drama.

By Doug Farrar  |  October 9, 2009; 7:38 AM ET  | Category:  Carolina Panthers , Cleveland Browns , Dallas Cowboys , Indianapolis Colts , Kansas City Chiefs , Miami Dolphins , Minnesota Vikings , New York Giants , St. Louis Rams , Tampa Bay Buccaneers , Tennessee Titans Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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