The CBA: Close, But No Cigar?

With a new NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement a distinct possibility in the not-so-distant future, .NET's cap expert advises those in power of a few wrinkes that could make the new CBA better for all involved.

At the same time I weighed in on the urgency for the Seahawks and the NFL to have a new collective bargaining agreement in place by March, a few more news articles popped up that shed some real hope that a new deal may actually take place in time for the pending off-season. We can expect that if an announcement comes down, it will happen very quickly and some new wrinkles will be added.

While the two sides are talking, let me weigh in with a few suggestions to make the CBA fairer than ever before.

Eliminate Incentive Pay

Fans love incentive-laced contracts because they give us confidence that players are actually earning their pay. In fact, I think incentive pay is horribly unfair. Shaun Alexander wins extra pay for rushing for great yardage, but what does Steve Hutchinson get for clearing space for him at an All-Pro level? Football is the ultimate team sport, yet only players who deal in “measurables” qualify for extra dollars.

The other problem with incentive pay is that it turns salary cap calculations into a hair-splitting nightmare. Incentives are currently distinguished between “likely-to-be-earned” and (drum roll please….) “NOT-likely to be earned”. If an incentive is “likely-to-be-earned” and yet isn’t earned, the team can roll the unearned dollars into the following year. Through sly manipulation, the Minnesota Vikings rolled FOURTEEN MILLION DOLLARS from 2003 into 2004. Other teams have used the same method, but the Vikings abused this clause to such an extent that it just needs to end.

Give teams a break from “dead cap-space”

If a team releases a player in the off-season, any bonuses that were scheduled to pro-rate into future years accelerate onto the current season. After June 1, that acceleration is pushed into the following season. Every year some teams are non-competitive because they pay the price for the excessive bonuses previously paid to non-productive players.

If a team signs a player to a five year contract, why not just keep the bonus spread over 5 years? Why accelerate at all? Teams would still be very careful about how they invested their dollars. After all, would the Seahawks really pay Grant Wistrom $14 million if they knew he’d still be showing up on their cap list 3 years after he was released? Teams should be penalized for paying the wrong players, but too often the penalty is all-consuming in one season and fans that buy tickets for that team are given little hope.

One compromise would be to subtract a teams’ unused cap space in a given year from it’s total accumulated dead-cap. Let’s say the Seahawks in 2004 only used $80 million of the $81 million total cap. The $1 million at the end of the season would reduce the dead contracts they’ve been piling up since the beginning of the previous season. The end result would be a softer cap, but a cap where all teams could be competitive in any give year if they CHOSE to be. No more excuses from cap-strapped teams. It would also make teams better able to sign their OWN players in any give off-season which leads me to my next suggestion which is….

Eliminate the Franchise Tags

Admittedly, this plea comes from a Seahawk fan who just sick and tired of the Walter Jones drama year in and year out. I’m ready to give big Walt a break and say if he doesn’t want to stay here, I don’t want to force him.

The franchise tag was implemented in 1993 as an assurance to teams and fans that the very best players wouldn’t leave in free agency. In essence, it gave everybody a soft landing into the new world order of free agency. It made everybody feel better at the time.

I’m hoping we can all agree that its time has passed. The franchise tag is used more for leverage than it is to truly keep a team’s best layers. We need to just let it go, and force teams to compete for their own best players. I know it may never happen, but I’ll be happy if it does.

Standardize Rookie Contracts

The rookie pool works pretty well right now. There are definitely fewer rookie holdouts then there were in the past, but teams are still being asked to pay huge dollars for un-proven players. To me the biggest issue comes with top-5 draft picks who command bigger salaries than existing veterans. Kellen Winslow Jr. may be a great tight end some day, but he isn’t now, and shouldn’t be paid like he is. The New York Giants feel enormous pressure to get Eli Manning on the field, because of the dollars that are invested in him.

The problem lies not so much in the rookie pool limits, which seem fair to me, but in the numerous contract gadgets (including incentives which I’ve already eliminated) that pump the overall value of the deals. The most expensive gadget it the “option bonus”, which is normally paid in year two and can change all the terms that previously existed in the deal. No more options bonuses for rookies. Agents who represent rookies hate this idea because the option bonus is the staple upon which first round deals are based. I understand that. That’s why I want them gone.

A few other tweaks to rookie deals: 3rd through 7th round picks should all have standard 3 year deals. 2nd round picks are 4 years and 1st round picks are 5 years. The “Deion Rule, which affects contracts that extend into uncapped years, shouldn’t apply to rookies. All of these changes would reduce dead-cap space relating to rookies. As I said above, I HATE dead-cap space.

By the way, if we reduce dollars paid to rookies, where does that extra money go? To VETERAN PLAYERS. The players who have PROVEN THEY CAN PLAY. All kinds of provision have been suggested to save the veteran players from being cut due to cap considerations, but to me the best solution is to stop tying up so much cash in unproven rookies.

And there’s no easy way to say this, but my last suggestion for the new collective bargaining agreement is…


The NFL and the NFLPA have been on some sort of strange mission to hide salary information from fans and the media. This policy is tremendously unproductive for two reasons. The first is that fans are the ones paying the salaries. OK, I understand that we’re not REALLY paying the salaries. Just because I pay my garbage bill doesn’t mean I have a right to know how much the garbage man makes, but pro sports is different. Fans have a right to know because they WANT to know.

The other reason is the NFL is a 12-month a year product. After the Super Bowl until the start of training camp, the salary cap is the scorecard of the off-season. Fans are told throughout the off-season that this team or that team can (or can’t) afford this or that player and yet we have no way of knowing who’s telling the truth. Seahawk fans debated for months if we over-paid Grant Wistrom, but very few could discuss the issue with all the facts at hand. Imagine sitting in the stadium with no scoreboard. That’s how the average fan feels about the off-season. Believe me, we WANT to know the score. The most common question I get is “how much cap-space do we have?”. Most of the time even I’m not even sure, and I follow this question closer than any Seahawk fan in history.

So, I’m calling on the NFL and the NFLPA to open up all salaries, bonuses, and cap-figures for any fan to scrutinize and complain about. Put me out of business. I’ll be the happiest fan of all.

"The Hawkstorian" writes about Seahawks history, the salary cap, and many other things for Seahawks.NET on an alarmingly regular basis. You can reach him at Top Stories