Eye on the cap

This is the time of year when all eyes in the Green Bay Packers football world are focused on Andrew Brandt, the team's vice president of player finance/general counsel. As the Packers plot strategy on whom they will attempt to re-sign, Brandt plays a key role as the team's cap manager.<p>

The salary cap system, which was initiated upon agreement by the National Football League and the player's union, went into effect in 1993. In an effort to make the league more balanced, the league shares revenue, the bulk coming from television, among its now-32 members. The salary cap is the amount of money league-wide that teams can pay players. It is roughly 63% of DGR (designated gross revenues) coming into the NFL.

"The cap is a complicated bird," Brandt told reporters in a Salary Cap 101 presentation last August. "I always compare it to like stuffing an octopus in a box. There's always something hanging out. What you have to do with the cap is recognize one thing: For every action there's a reaction."

This year, the cap is expected to be set at around $71.4 million. The official figure will be released by the league prior to the start of unrestricted free agency on March 1. The Packers, right now, are slightly above that figure, according to Brandt, because of incentives the team paid to defensive tackles Jim Flanigan and Santana Dotson this year. By March 1, the Packers, along with every team in the league will have to be under the new salary cap figure.

The Packers enter the upcoming free agent period in good shape. They re-signed running back Ahman Green, cornerback Mike McKenzie and center Mike Flanagan to extensions during the season last year. Some of the Packers' top unrestricted free agents include fullback William Henderson, wide receivers Bill Schroeder and Corey Bradford, and offensive linemen Mike Wahle and Barry Stokes.

"That's the key to this whole system ... are you making the right bets?" Brandt said. "We made a bet on Ahman Green. We did all our research and made sure that this is a player we want to make a bet with. We thought he was the best bet on our roster.

"You want to try to avoid the situation we had with (Darren) Sharper, where you have a player who has a serious, stunning year in his free agent year. Then he's got the leverage."

Last year, the Packers paid out more than $20 million in signing bonuses to Sharper, kicker Ryan Longwell and quarterback Brett Favre. Brandt also restructured contracts of a handful of veterans including LeRoy Butler, Frank Winters, Dorsey Levens and Earl Dotson.

The Packers reportedly have been negotiating with Butler to restructure his contract. The Packers also are expected to ask wide receiver Antonio Freeman to take a pay cut if he intends to stay. Freeman is expected to count $5.7 million against the salary cap in 2002. If the Packers release Freeman after June 1, they would save about $4 million against the cap.

Butler's 2002 base salary is $2.25 million.

"I'm sure at some point we'll get something done," Butler told the Green Bay News-Chronicle. Last off-season, Butler accepted a $1 million pay cut to help the Packers get below the salary cap. His salary went from $2.75 million to $1.75 million.

Butler wants to play more than the one year left on his current deal, but it's unlikely he will play for the league minimum, which is $650,000 for a player with his tenure.

"I would like to play two more years," said Butler, who'll be 34 before the start of the 2002 season, which will be his 13th. "I want to play when the new stadium opens up. I'm not going to ask for $100 million. Not even one-tenth of it."

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