As one of the most interesting years ever in the business of football winds to a close with the looming question of whether football will be in business in 2011, let’s take a look at the top ten stories of this unique year in the NFL. Today looks at 10 through 6.
10. Crazy spending with no Salary Cap? Not.
In the first year in the NFL without a Salary Cap since 1993 – a result of this being the last year of an expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) – the fear of Steinbrenneresque spending by teams never materialized. The reciprocal lack of a “floor” for teams to exceed was more impactful. Many teams spent far less than the $108 minimum threshold from the last Capped year, 2009, and some spent in the $90 million range.
The fear for the NFLPA was that teams who spent little did well. Has it happened? A couple low-spending teams had success this year (Chiefs and Buccaneers), while others did not (Broncos, Chargers, Cardinals, Panthers, and Bills).
NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith at one time invoked the mantra of his predecessor, the late Gene Upshaw: “Once the Cap goes away, it’s not coming back” but has since relented. No Cap ceiling means no Cap floor. The NFLPA needs that floor.
9. Redskins and Cowboys Cap-savvy
These two teams were feared most for what might have happen with no Cap. They surprised all by spending within reason and prudently structuring deals in preparation for the likely continuation of a Cap.
The Redskins (1) shed their sins from free agency past — Antwaan Randle-El, Randy Thomas, Fred Smoot, etc, (2) restructured massive deals with Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall that contains their Cap charge in the uncapped 2010, (allowing them to shed Haynesworth asap), and (3) can walk away from their puzzling extension with Donovan McNabb with “only” a $3.5 million parting gift.
The Cowboys did another big contract for a wide receiver – they can’t help themselves – but structured Miles Austin’s deal with a $17 million number in 2010 and no Cap acceleration later in the deal.
Shrewd Cap management in a Capless year by the teams least known for it.
8. Bears kingpin spenders
Free agency in 2010 required six years of service rather than four. Thus, the talent available was diluted and considered the weakest crop in years.
While the usual suspects – see above – were quiet, the Chicago Bears signed the jewel of the class, Julius Peppers, as well as Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna to the tune of $53 million in total guarantees in one day.
While few teams making noise in March make noise in January, the Bears are now poised to do so.
7. Restricted free agency truly restricted
The true talent of the 2010 free agent class was the restricted free agent (RFA) class, able to move teams only through an unmatched offer sheet.
After the offer sheet period expired, one player moved teams: Mike Bell, from the Saints to the Eagles (later traded to the Browns). The NFLPA was poised to file a collusion claim until they agreed to delay it, one of the first true positive signs of the CBA negotiations.
Although there was scant activity with players moving teams, many RFAs did get rewarded eventually by their existing teams.
6. Bradford’s last stand
Coming off Matthew Stafford’s record $41.7 million guarantee, Sam Bradford hit the magic $50 million guarantee (20% more than Stafford), now the highest guaranteed contract in the history of football, at least until Peyton Manning is addressed.
Bradford serves as latest evidence of the ills of rookie pay at the top of the Draft. The rookies, who have no voice in the CBA negotiations, will be sacrificed. Where Bradford’s total potential compensation is up to $78 million, the next top pick’s total potential compensation could be as low as $20 million. Bradford got in just before the door closed.
Coming next: the top five 2010 business of football stories.
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