April 19, 2006

The NFL Salary Cap

probably a little-noticed piece of news today, but the Niners picked up the 22nd overall pick in the upcoming draft from the Broncos for two lower picks (2nd round 37th overall, 3rd round 68th overall).

as a niners fan, i was elated by the trade, but not because we duped the broncos or anything like that. nfl front office people are inherently a suspicious and careful bunch, particularly teams that are in the higher echelons of the league. a small misstep in the nfl, with its salary cap and collective bargaining agreement, can damage your squad much worse than it can in baseball, for instance. so it's not like the niners pulled a fast one on denver.

but for both teams, this trade makes a lot of sense. for denver, a team that feels it's at a level where they are consistently competing in the playoffs, the draft is really about maintaining a high-level of performance. it's about being able to place some well-timed bets on talent in the hopes that you can develop and blossom it into future stars to replace your current stars. with the salary cap structures and their ability to waive players' unguaranteed money at any time, nfl front offices often backload nfl contracts with money that players will never get (for example: TO's tiff with the philly front office last year over non-guaranteed cash that would NEVER have hit his bank account). the result is that most nfl contracts that look huge are not really so huge because the team can waive it at any time, paying only the guaranteed money (signing bonus, etc.). so a team like denver, with veteran stars and a decent cap number today will probably need to make adjustments further down the line to shrink their cap numbers; not everyone on the denver roster today will see all the money that's in his contract.

think of it like this: every nfl team has a small greenhouse (the salary cap) and they fit all their plants (contracts) into the greenhouse today. but most of these plants are going to keep growing (back-loaded contracts) and eventually they will have to either throw plants out (waive players) or snip them a bit to make sure there's room (re-structure deals). for a team like denver, with a nice, blooming garden, they don't want to bring in another young plant that is already huge (first rounders make a lot of money) when they have a nice-looking collection already. they'd rather take two smaller plants that have potential for a lot of growth. then when some of the older large plants grow too much, or get too large for how ugly the look, they can junk those since these two youngsters are playing the cover-2 well, er, blossoming.

a couple of teams that have done well with this are the patriots and the eagles. a few years ago, the eagles had a couple of shutdown corners named bobby taylor and troy vincent. these were two of the best cornerbacks in the nfl and they were part of a great secondary and defense. so what did the eagles do in the 2002 draft? they took two cornerbacks name lito sheppard and sheldon brown. huh? sure they weren't going to start over taylor or vincent. but 1) the eagles didn't need them to start (or even play) immediately because the team was already so good, and 2) the eagles knew someday they wouldn't be able to afford taylor and vincent. maybe sheppard puts it best himself:

"When I came here, I was in a great situation where I didn't have to step in there right away. I got a chance to learn from the best corners to ever play the game. Along with what I brought to the table, I got some smartness of the game from those guys. When I did get the opportunity, I wasn't perfect, but I was ahead of a rookie coming in." philadelphiaeagles.com

lo and behold, a few years later, taylor and vincent are elsewhere, and sheppard and brown are part of one of the best secondaries in football.

of course, for a team like the niners, this strategy doesn't work. we need people that can step in and play right away. could you find that in the second and third rounds? probably, but it might take some searching and some luck. in other words, our greenhouse is, how do i say, not as filled as that of other teams. we can bring in some big plants that have room for growth, but also have sizeable cap numbers, er, space requirements today. i like the move to pick up the extra first-round pick. those fifteen spots between the 22nd and 37th picks can make a big difference, especially if mike nolan and company have someone that they really like in the 20-25 range. now let's all cross our fingers and hope we make some good picks.

either that or package the 6 and the 22 for reggie bush :).

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At 4/19/2006 03:19:00 PM, Blogger half & half said...

Nice post dude. I was wondering when your clandestine love of botany was going to finally shine through. You gay.

At 4/19/2006 05:17:00 PM, Anonymous king said...

thats pwnage.

At 7/19/2006 07:49:00 AM, Blogger The Analyzer said...

I found some interesting salary cap tidbits about the Raiders here. That site had other good salary cap information as well.


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