NFL being just grand to chosen few

March 22, 1994|By Gary Myers | Gary Myers,New York Daily News

Scott Mitchell, with seven career starts at quarterback, never would have been in position to sign a three-year, $11 million contract with a $5 million signing bonus without free agency. But without a salary cap, Scott Mersereau, an adequate defensive tackle, never would have been cut by the Jets for making $675,000.

"This is entirely different than the NFL has ever been," Jets GM Dick Steinberg said. "We don't operate the way we used to. I don't think you can have free agency without a salary cap. Why they wanted free agency -- you have to ask them. Salaries were escalating."

So far, it looks like a great deal for the chosen few. And a not-so-great deal for the players getting cut to make room for the chosen few.

How could this have been done differently? Some suggestions:

* There's a huge difference between the NFL cap and the NBA cap. The NBA has a soft cap, which allows teams to spend whatever it takes to re-sign their own players. The cap restricts what they can spend for other teams' players. The NFL has a hard cap: Everybody counts. It's suffocating teams. Solution: Each team is allowed two players whose salaries don't count toward the cap. This would allow greater flexibility. Of course, it would also cost teams about $7 million a year, something they don't want. A soft NBA-type cap would be much too costly.

* It's a year-round salary cap. That's why so many players are getting cut now and why jobs are being lost on ledger sheets instead of at training camp. One way around that: The cap should kick in when the season opens Labor Day weekend.

* When a player goes on injured reserve, he is out for the season, but his salary still counts 100 percent toward the cap. Teams must leave themselves cap room to replace IR players, or they will be playing with smaller than the 53-man roster. Solution: Once a player goes on IR, only 50 percent of his salary counts against the cap.

* The unrestricted signing period runs from Feb. 18 to July 15. Too long. Things needs to settle down way before camp. Players need to know where they're going. Teams need to know who's coming to camp. A two-month signing period that would end right before the draft would give the entire process more of a sense of urgency.

It has come down to this in the NFL: Players who can't live up to their contracts are gone. One personnel director compared it to the real estate market. "If a property can't hold its value, the price has to come down," he said. "I'm an appraiser."

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