Biz Blitz: NFL Salary Cap Could Hit $132 Million and Save DeMaurice Smith’s Job

Word from the NFL Network and numerous other media sources is that the 2014 salary cap could climb above the $130 million figure thrown around just last week. For the first time under the 2011 Collective Bargaining agreement, the players are poised to move ahead of the old CBA.  

The cap was $123 million in 2013, $120.6 million in 2012 and $120 million in 2011, the first year of the current CBA.

That couldn't come at a better time for NFL PA executive director DeMaurice Smith who next year faces challengers for his job. Two bumps, 2014 and possibly 2015, in the salary cap is something to show when there was little before.

How the union lost the lockout war 

Hidden in the applause of the 2006 CBA Extension was a civil war between small market and big market teams

 Small market teams struggled to be profitable while fielding a competitive roster as wealthier  NFC East and AFC East Division clubs were magnets for stadium and licensing revenue. The smalls wanted a piece of the bigs' action.

As the owners bickered, Gene Upshaw and the players union stole their lunch. The salary cap leapt from $85.5 million in 2005 to $102 million in 2006, the first year of the CBA Extension. The cap would climb to $123 million by 2009, the last cap year of the Extension.

The owners set the goal of regaining the share of broadcast revenue they ceded to the union in the 2006 CBA Extension and Upshaw knew it. He predicted in 2007 that the owners would lock out players in 2011. When they did so, Upshaw promised that the union would not again agree to cap salaries.

Loss of the cap was the only thing that owners feared. Without a cap, teams could pay any amount to any player. The NFL's eastern teams could channel George Steinbrenner and convert the league into the football version of the MLB where the rich hog talent and the rest play clever versions of money ball.

Upshaw died in 2008. The players dithered selecting his replacement as they negotiated with hard-nosed owners. They ultimately hired DC lawyer DeMaurice Smith to do what lawyers do, sue the bastards.

Dee Smith is not Gene Upshaw … yet

Smith is an excellent lawyer who deserves high marks for settling a contract before the union suffered a crushing defeat in the U.S. Court of Appeals (that seemed inevitable to me). But Smith was a lawyer, not an experienced union leader who bargained as tough as a Hall of Fame offensive guard.

The players won the p.r. battle with their "Let Them Play" campaign that cast reopening 2011 training camp as a civic priority. Players also wanted to handcuff NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's authority to sanction dumb jock behavior.

The union needed to hold out past the start of the season to wring that from owners. Upshaw might have held the players together. It's unlikely anyone else could have.  

The players never threatened loss of the salary cap as Upshaw would have. They did wring owner concession on a cap floor that sets the minimum every teams must spend on salaries. That was a net gain for players on many teams.

But the owners won the war. They regained a larger share of the broadcast pot that should grow larger beginning this year. The owners also won a rookie pay scale that players were not entirely opposed to. Why should first round rookies receive higher incomes than established veterans?

League sanctions still loom over players.

Cap winners and losers

The four-win Raiders, Jaguars and Browns have the most cushion with a $132 million salary cap; the Raiders by as much as $63 million. The Cowboys, Steelers and Seahawks face the biggest squeeze. The Cowboys, with nearly $12 million in dead money, are $20 million over the new cap.

The Seahawks have more to show for their cap spending.   

The small market Buffalo Bills would have $22.7 million cap room, in spite of $12 million dead cap money. The Green Bay Packers project to $32.2 million and the Cincinnati Bengals to $27.4 million.

In a cap-driven league, the best managed teams always have cap room and the wins to show for it.

About Anthony Brown

Lifelong Redskins fan and blogger about football and life since 2004. Joined MVN's Hog Heaven blog in 2005 and then moved Redskins Hog Heaven to Bolguin Network. Believes that the course of a season is pre-ordained by management decisions made during the offseason. Can occasionally be found on the This Given Sunday blog and he does guest posts.