Silence sounds golden in cap negotiations

The quiet could be heard all around the NFL on Friday as representatives of the league and its players association met at an undisclosed location. The sounds of silence were sweet for those who want to see a CBA settlement get done.

The past few weeks have been a war of words and dramatic actions. Deadlines have been announced, optimism and pessimism have been expressed out loud, meetings have been held to send signals rather than to accomplish anything, statements have been issued to the press. All of the sound and fury did was dig each side into its position a little more.

There was nothing but silence Friday, however, as the two sides met in an undisclosed location. Two bits of information did leak out of the session. One is that the group meeting is very small, with perhaps as few as three representatives on each side including Gene Upshaw and Paul Tagliabue. At this stage, that would have to be considered a positive. It means that only a couple of big issues remain and, while number crunchers and lawyers are likely nearby, they aren't present in the room to muddle the process.

The other thing we heard today was three little words, "cash over cap." The salary cap does not represent actual money paid out for player salaries in a year, there are accounting procedures - loopholes, some would call them - that allow teams to spend more than the cap in a given year. Paying out a signing bonus up front that carries an amortized cap charge over the life of the contract is an example of cash over cap.

This has been one of the complaints that the smaller-market teams have with the present system. They say that they can't compete with the teams with greater cash flow when it comes to taking advantage of such loopholes.

Apparently, they want to limit cash over cap. Perhaps there would be a hard limit on it, a set percentage over the cap. Or perhaps a soft cap might be more acceptable to the teams with more money, a luxury tax on cash over cap expenditures past a given limit.

The union may be a bit reluctant to do this since it might cut down on the size of signing bonuses, which are often the only guaranteed money that players get when they sign a contract. However, if smaller-market teams are able to better compete for top free agents, they may come closer to the maximum cap than to the salary minimum, meaning more money for more players.

To get a cash over cap restriction, the owners may have to meet the players a little more than halfway between Upshaw's demand for 60 percent of revenues and their last offer of 56.2 percent. So, let's say they go to 58.5 percent with a luxury tax on cash payroll more than 10 percent over the cap (with the players getting a cut of that), shake hands Saturday night and open up the free agency period next Friday.

Sound like a plan? Stay tuned.

Rich Tandler is editor-in-chief of

Niners Digest Top Stories