by Optimus-NY for BigBlueInteractive.com
May 20, 2013
In today’s NFL, the salary cap rules all. The NFL salary cap is an opponent that many front offices have simply dealt with on an intermediate level, a few have mastered, and a few more have fallen to ruin against as a result of mismanagement. It has risen $88.392 million over the course of 19 years from $34.608 million back in 1994 to $123 million in 2013. Over that time, we’ve seen the New York Giants deal with it to varying degrees. George Young clearly had issues dealing with it, when a bloodletting took place in its first year, when in the Spring of 1994 Giants fans experienced their first casualty of the cap era: the release of Phil Simms, who incidentally was coming off of the second Pro Bowl year of his career in 1993, which turned out to be the final season in his distinguished career (This Day in Football: Giants cut Phil Simms). Reality quickly sunk in for Giants fans with respect to the cap: “if Phil Simms could get cut, then anybody can.” The cap’s influence on free agency was a reason why players like Dave Meggett, Myron Guyton, and Mark Collins walked in free agency as well despite the Giants still wanting to retain them.
Once Ernie Accorsi took over as GM, things started to clear up cap-wise. That then carried over to this regime headed by GM Jerry Reese and Assistant GM (formerly titled cap analyst) Kevin Abrams. We now see a team that is shrewdly managed, with solid drafting and wisely signed free agent additions. What we also see as a result of the cap is the know-how that is required to keep a team with a franchise QB in his prime years competitively balanced when it comes to knowing when to let certain veteran players walk in free agency. The New York Giants did that this offseason with Kenny Phillips and Osi Umenyiora. The ins and outs of navigating the NFL salary cap are numerous though. The best thing to keep in mind when it comes to understanding the underlying motivation for people in NFL front offices is younger and cheaper. That is why it is important to find talent via the draft, rookie free agency, and through prudent veteran free agent acquisitions (something which is often overlooked by many fans). Keeping track of these ins and outs is something that is also key. Following these moves as they are made is not difficult. However, what can be difficult at times is understanding how these decisions are arrived at. This brings us to mapping out roster distribution and cap numbers.
There are several rules that teams – specifically cap analysts – must adhere to when it comes to assisting in team building and roster management. They revolve around the Top 51 rule, when it is in effect during the off-season (which is 7 to 8 months of a calendar year), and the regular season salary cap rules from a team’s first regular season game to its last regular season or post-season game of a given year. Here is an article for it that explains it well, along with some other basics: Explaining The NFL’s Salary Cap” by Dan Durkin.
What is also important to understand, but from a fan’s standpoint, is the fact that cap numbers are not the same as salary. A cap number is calculation of how the money that a player earns counts towards the salary cap, and includes within it a portion of any number of bonuses, along with whatever guaranteed base salary a given player receives (a.k.a. “cap spending dollars” as opposed to “cash spending dollars”). A player’s salary has nothing to do with the calculations that are taken into account to come up with a given player’s cap number. Instead it has to do with a player’s “Paragraph 5” salary. I refer readers to this excellently written article by Jason Fitzgerlad from overthecap.com regarding the matter: A Guide to the NFL Salary Cap.
I’ll also provide a direct link to the Collective Bargaining Agreement agreed upon by the players and owners: 2011 NFL CBA (agreed upon on August 4, 2011). This latest CBA has been the source of much discussion since its ratification almost two years ago, and there has been a lot analysis regarding what the players gained (mostly lost) since it has been in effect. I’ll table an article on that though for some time in the future. What needs to be mentioned regarding the understanding of the cap itself is that it is not covered enough in the mainstream media. What we see regarding its implications is only touched upon very briefly at best. There’s nothing sexy about it to those who cover the team. It is indeed a shame that this is the case because in actuality there is no single more important factor in play when it comes to understanding how a team is built both in the short-term as well as the long-term, and what factors go into determining a team’s decision making regarding its personnel. It is for this reason that you see specialized websites specifically for the discussion and analysis of the salary cap with respect to the league as a whole and for specific teams.
One such website that stands out for the overall discussion of the league as a whole is overthecap.com. It includes both quantitative as well as qualitative analysis of the salary cap as it pertains to the entire league. I have a personal salary cap blog that I started up this month titled New York Giants Salary Cap Central which is my recent attempt to replicate this quantitative and qualitative approach that Jason Fitzgerald has done with his website, except it’s for a specific team, the Giants. There is also spotrac.com, but it lacks in any kind of qualitative discussion (at the least the free part anyway). It also directly lifted the numbers from overthecap.com, as per this article: Site News: Explaining my issues with another website.
Hopefully, a cap section on BBI can function to serve the purpose of gathering information from different places that serve to facilitate the increased understanding of how the cap works and its effect on the Giants’ overall decision making with respect to putting together their roster as whole. It’s one thing to list the order of the cap numbers on the team in such a section – which I intend to do – but it’s another thing to qualitatively break down and analyze patterns that are related to each player’s overall cap situation with respect to the Giants and their long-term and short-term plans for each player. Each year situations change, but teams try their best to control how players fit into the overall scheme of their plans. Hopefully, a cap section on BBI can serve to accumulate a decent enough amount of information so Giants fans who frequent the website can understand how the Giants’ cap situation reflects and determines the moves they make.
Personally, I look forward to spearheading the creation of such a section here on BBI. Currently, there is no other website on the internet which focuses on such a specific topic. In the coming weeks and months that will change for the better. Websites that focus on the cap for the other teams in the NFC East will be linked here, so that fans understand how the inter-divisional competition fares with respect to their respective cap situations. I encourage people to read and ask questions about the information contained herein; questions will serve to help to drive the content that is put out in this section, and make it a truly interactive experience for readers, rather than one which driven by individual whims alone (that’s what my cap blog linked above is for). It will be fun to integrate this new section on the cap here on BBI. My hope is that readers will find it equally fun and interesting to read.