We all watched the New York Yankees win the World Series last week with what was commonly referred to as “the best team money can buy.” The Yankees’ $208-million payroll greatly exceeded the player costs of its opponent, the Phillies ($113 million), and, for that matter, every other MLB team. Their dramatic spending has been the source of much debate in light of the results, but we have to remember that one year ago, the Yankees were also the highest-spending team in baseball by a good margin and watched the postseason with the rest of us.
My strong feeling has always been that spending in professional sports does not strongly correlate to winning. Having said that, I do think in a system without a salary cap, greater financial resources give teams an advantage that a cap system does not. In other words, the margin for error is much greater for a club spending significantly more than other teams competing in the same league.
The Yankees compete in the same league with the same rules against teams like the Florida Marlins, whose payroll has hovered around $40M for the past couple of years. So the disparity in cash spending in 2009 between the high and low teams in Major League Baseball is close to $170M, a truly astounding figure.
Were there a cap in place -- as opposed to the three-letter word in baseball, “tax,” which taxes high-spending teams -- the disparity would be much less dramatic. A cap allows for outliers on a year-to-year basis but self-regulates over the long term. In the NFL, we see teams rise in the spending rankings one year only to fall down the next or moderate somewhere in the middle over the long term.
The Redskins have been the highest-spending team in the NFL over the last decade. As we know, that investment has brought them very limited success on the field, now resulting in some vitriol directed at them from fans, media and former players (I was a diehard fan growing up, so it pains me as well). Even the Redskins, however, have not been perennial leaders at the top of the cash rankings in the league. In the last five years, while they’ve spent liberally in 2005, 2007 and 2009, they have been moderate-to-low spenders in 2006 and 2008. The self-regulatory operation of the NFL salary cap has been a reason for that.
The results in baseball beg the question of how the NFL would look without a salary cap, a possibility that becomes more realistic every day as we move toward a 2010 without a cap (a function of the expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement).
There does exist the possibility that teams could use the lack of a cap to engage in unfettered spending, becoming the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets of the NFL. However, there is also the possibility that teams could roll back their spending and become the Marlins, Pirates and Royals.
As has been written here and will be again, with no cap ceiling in 2009, teams can spend as they wish without limits. But with no cap floor in 2009, teams can also save as they wish without limits. This is how the lack of a salary cap could give the NFL a financial model more similar to baseball next year.
Will we get there? Time will tell. The NFL and the NFL Players Association are meeting, including a session last week in New York. They have decided to stop talking about the negotiations -- or lack thereof -- with the media, which I see as progress. It’s always helpful that the parties are talking to each other about their issues rather than venting to others (a lesson the Packers and Brett Favre could have used). Thus, media silence from the labor front is seen as progress.
Will we have a labor deal by the end of the season? Probably not. Will we have a labor deal by the start of the 2010 league year in March? Better question. Stay tuned.
Other notes from this weekend in the NFL:
Not sure what to say about the Packers losing in Tampa. I was part of some truly tough losses in that venue (and those damn cannons going off), including the game where Warren Sapp laid a vicious block on Chad Clifton and we didn’t know if Chad would walk, let alone play football again. In those years, though, Tampa was a contending team.
Speaking of the Bucs, they won despite the absence of their highest-paid player. Antonio Bryant sat out the game after doing something to his knee on the flight from London to Tampa before last week’s bye week. Bryant, playing under a $9.884M franchise-tag contract, made $1.16M for last week’s bye and this week’s scratch due to his flight-induced injury.
The Broncos, after signing 35-year-old Ty Law this weekend, officially have the oldest defensive secondary in the league. Law typically resists overtures in the offseason to sign for the veteran minimum, waiting for the right fit in midseason as he did last year with the Jets. With five players older than 30, experience won’t be a problem on the back end of that defense. While most teams are looking to shed players who reach the wrong side of 30, especially at positions that require explosion and speed, the Broncos have been adding them.
Speaking of the Broncos, why would the Steelers even consider playing safety Ryan Clark in the game tonight in Denver? Clark, who has a blood disorder that’s aggravated by high altitude, nearly died after playing in Denver two seasons ago. He had his spleen and gall bladder removed following that game but was given medical clearance to play tonight. Huh? This is not even a close call; there’s no way he should play. That decision was hopefully made the day the schedule came out in April.
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