With more and more teams dealing with real cap issues, agents who are eyeballing major paydays for their clients are trying to shrug their shoulders when it comes to the struggles of teams to fit their players under the annual spending limit.
Last year, the favorite argument of agents trying to score major paydays in free agency was that the cap eventually will spike. This year, more and more agents and teams are accepting the reality that the cap won’t spike, but smooth.
Indeed, the NFLPA doesn’t want the cap to ever spike, since a spike would be unfair to the players who did long-term deals under a lower cap in the prior year. The union instead prefers a “smoothing” of the cap, with steady, gradual, predictable growth.
This year, agents are trying to get teams (and the media) to ignore the realities of a hard year-by-year cap by arguing that teams routinely spend cash over the cap. And some in the media (including those who may or may not be represented by one of the biggest player agencies) are pushing the idea that, even in a capped environment, teams can spend whatever they want to spend.
That’s true. With a major caveat. Every dollar spent now eventually must be accounted for under the salary cap. And if the cap will only be growing by, for example, 1.9 percent in 2013, pushing too many cap dollars into the future will eventually force teams to make tough decisions.
For example, the Saints went “cash over cap” last year by paying quarterback Drew Brees a total of $40 million, even though his cap number was nearly one fourth of that, at $10.4 million. But the remaining $29.6 million will hit the cap later.
For Brees, the piper will be paid in 2015, when the Saints will carry a $26.4 million cap number for a 36-year-old quarterback. The next year, the cap number will be $27.4 million. Even if there’s a “restructuring,” those dollars will still hit the cap, eventually (unless Brees agrees to reduce his salary in either year).
At some point, Brees’ naturally declining skills and his artificially increasing cap number (thanks to “cash over cap” paid in 2012) will intersect, and the team will decide that Brees’ talent no longer justifies the investment. In those situations, the extra cap space tied to cash paid over the cap in past years will make it harder to justify keeping the player around.
Absent a renegotiation of Tom Brady’s contract in 2015 or beyond, the Patriots won’t face that issue, since his cap number will be $13 million, $14 million, and $15 million, respectively, in the final three years of his current deal. Which is likely one of the main reasons why, at least for now, Brady agreed to a deal that dropped his cap number from $21.8 million down to $13.8 million.
In response to Brady’s new contract, which ultimately reflects the realities of the cap in a “smoothing” environment, get ready to hear more arguments about “cash over cap” in the coming days, as agents try to hypnotize teams into thinking that money spent over the cap now disappears into the black hole of future cap increases.
The simple truth is that each and every dollar spent by a team on a player compensation hits the cap, whether in the current year or in a future year. When the cap was jumping by 10 percent or more per year, that didn’t matter much. Now that the cap is creeping, it becomes a bigger problem for cap-strapped teams.