Salary cap also puts limit on teams' depth charts

On the NFL

February 25, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The salary cap is changing the face of the NFL, but not exactly in the way it originally was intended.

It has done little to stop the league's salary escalation -- the Oakland Raiders spent $31 million last week to sign two members of the Dallas Cowboys' supporting cast (Russell Maryland and Larry Brown) -- but it is watering down the product the league is putting on the field.

The era of the great team is rapidly ending.

Despite all the salary cap manipulation that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has done to keep his stars, even he can't stop the erosion of the team's depth.

The loss of Maryland and Brown -- the 19th and 20th players the Cowboys have lost in free agency the past three years -- will hurt the defense and leave Dallas more vulnerable to injuries.

Good teams get hurt by free agency because they tend to have more good players and no cap room. The Pittsburgh Steelers lost offensive tackle Leon Searcy when he signed a $17 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and they could lose quarterback Neil O'Donnell to the New York Jets. The San Francisco 49ers lost cornerback Eric Davis to the Carolina Panthers, who signed him to an $11.4 million deal.

Jones, who said he didn't make offers to Maryland and Brown, said he couldn't expect to keep them after signing safety Darren Woodson for $18 million.

"We knew this was going to happen," Jones said of losing Maryland and Brown.

Scouting director Larry Lace- well said: "We've kept all our big stars. We won't be as deep, but no team in the NFL will be as deep."

Coach Barry Switzer, who keeps pointing out that the Cowboys aren't as good as the 1992-1993 Jimmy Johnson teams, said, "There's less depth on the team every year."

This is the wave of the future in pro football, and a lot of teams don't like it.

So far, though, there's no sign it bothers the fans. The weaker product enabled Indianapolis to come out of nowhere to within a play of the Super Bowl.

Starting over

The departure of personnel director Mike Lombardi is a positive step for the Baltimore franchise. Along with former coach Bill Belichick, he presided over the disaster of last off-season that included the departure of Eric Metcalf and Michael Dean Perry, the signing of Andre Rison, which led to Eric Turner's holdout, and the decision to trade down from 10th to 30th on the first round.

But owner Art Modell is taking a gamble by not bringing in an experienced personnel man to replace Lombardi. Instead, he's making former tight end Ozzie Newsome the top aide to coach Ted Marchibroda. Although Newsome has a reputation for being a good talent evaluator, he'll have to grow into this job quickly if the team is to be turned around right away.

The first priority will be to restructure the roster. Baltimore is only $2.1 million under the salary cap, which means it doesn't have enough money to sign the two first-round picks it has in this draft.

The team has a bloated payroll with such salary cap figures as Turner, $3.3 million; Rison, $3 million; Rob Burnett, $2.5 million; Tony Jones, $2.4 million; Leroy Hoard, $1.8 million; and Michael Jackson, $1.7 million. Also, Vinny Testaverde's deal averages $3.2 million.

Falling short

Nashville, Tenn., became the latest city to fall short of its goal of selling permanent seat licenses.

The city put $77 million worth up for sale and sold $66 million worth. But local bankers agreed to guarantee some of the shortfall, and owner Bud Adams said he'd help with $7.5 million if needed. Also, a mystery donor pledged $2.4 million toward the sales.

"It's someone you all know," said Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen. Could it be that Elvis is alive and buying PSLs?

Opponents of the plan have until tomorrow to come up with 20,000 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot.

It's also uncertain where the Oilers will play the next two years. They still have two years left on their lease in Houston.

If they can get free of that, they're likely to try to play at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis while the Nashville stadium is being built.

Lifestyles of rich, famous

Although quarterback Warren Moon of the Minnesota Vikings was acquitted on a misdemeanor assault charge when his wife took part of the blame for their altercation last year, the trial did provide a closer look at how the big money an athlete makes can affect his personal life.

Moon said: "I didn't know at the time that it [the big contract he got in Houston] would affect our relationship, but obviously it did a little bit."

His wife, Felicia, said that she started spending a lot of time at the mall because Moon was gone so much.

"I spent a lot of money," she said. "My free time would be basically spent at the mall. It would be $5,000 here, $2,500 there. We had so much money in the bank, I didn't think it would be that big a deal."

She ran up $160,000 in credit card bills, and it led to one of their altercations.

The Cleveland deal

Even while Cleveland Mayor Michael White is having problems getting his city council to agree to the deal he made with the NFL, other cities are getting in line trying to get loans from the league to help in stadium construction.

Officials in Tampa, Fla., who are trying to keep the Bucs, have written the NFL requesting help, and Seattle owner Ken Behring, who's trying to move to Los Angeles, has suggested that the NFL make a deal with Seattle that would free him to leave.

"The NFL has worked out deals before. Why not put the same effort in here as what was put in Cleveland?" he said.

The owners are expected to take the position that Cleveland was a special case.

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