As I suffered through the LeBronathon last night, several thoughts went through my head about the spectacle and how the NBA relates to the NFL.
I have spent much time opining that free agency in the NFL does not work the way it does in the NBA – or MLB for that matter. However, with the well-conceived master plan that LeBron, Wade and Bosh (and Pat Riley) hatched years ago with simultaneous expirations of their contracts, I wondered if this could happen in the NFL?
Well, assuming a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that maintains the previous four-year requirement for free agency, there will be a strong group of free agents next year. With all the 212 “limbo” free agents that were stuck in purgatory this year turning free next year, a team or teams could make a Heat-ish power play.
Let’s assume one of the A-list quarterbacks with an expiring contract – Tom Brady or Peyton Manning – actually becomes free in March (I realize it unlikely with the Franchise tag, but stay with me). What if Brady – the more likely of the two to not have his contract renegotiated – recruited other free agents in a Wade-like fashion?
Brady could call his buddy Randy Moss – he recruited him to the Patriots once before -- or Vincent Jackson or Sidney Rice or Miles Austin for his receiver; Joseph Addai or DeAngelo Williams for his running back; Marcus McNeill and/or teammate Logan Mankins to block for him and perhaps old buddy Richard Seymour and two Broncos playing out their contracts, Elvis Dumervil and Champ Bailey, to go after the opposition.
Or what if, in 2012, if somehow their teams do not extend them or they refuse such overtures, Adrian Peterson, DeSean Jackson and Darelle Revis decide to team up in free agency? For the NFL, that would be about as dynamic a trio as possible.
As I write this, I know that there is not likely a team willing to gut its roster the way the Heat did to take a chance on acquiring this group. And with so many players and the injury rate what it is, the truly elite players never make it to free agency either due to extensions or the Franchise tag.
Interesting to ponder nonetheless.
The power of LeBron still amazes me. While he and his childhood buddy sat back in sweats knowing they were going to Miami, caravans of owners, executives, coaches, Cap managers and celebrities groveled at their feet to beg and plead for his signature. They probably had some nice laughs about the suits and ties after the groups left.
Let’s not be naïve about this whole thing. This plan was made long ago. Although Pat Riley and owner Mickey Arison couldn’t talk to LeBron due to tampering rules, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh did all the work for them.
It is amazing how much money NBA teams – who have been claiming poverty -- threw around for players not named LeBron or Dwayne. $84 million for Rudy Gay? $80 million for Carlos Boozer? $55 million for Brendan Haywood? $35 million for Travis Outlaw? Seriously?
I know the NBA has fewer players and plays more games. I get that. However, that does not provide equilibrium to NFL players with shorter careers and much higher injury rates. The best players in the NFL make $30 million in guarantees. Average players in the NBA make that. When it comes to guaranteed money, NFL players clearly are sitting at the children’s table.
Cap room the winner
The NBA Cap was set yesterday at $58 million with a luxury tax threshold at $70.3 million. In Miami, the three stars will take up most of that number, with the rest spread out among rookies and Cap exceptions. The NBA Cap –like the NFL Cap as it was -- is a soft cap; a “yarmulke” that teams can maneuver around if willing to pay the tax.
Cap room was the winner in the long-awaited 2010 free agency in the NBA. There was a reason the Heat had only two players under contract and they played it perfectly. And isn’t it interesting that players like James and Wade are lauded for “not going for the money” when they will be making around $15 million this year, rising by 8% each year.
The Heat orchestrated the perfect storm. Chances are it will never happen in the NFL, if ever again in any sport.
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