Is progress being made toward paying players a percentage of the salary cap?

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During the 2016 offseason, we explained that nothing in the labor deal prevents players from getting paid a percentage of the salary cap. This approach would protect great players against significant jumps in the spending limit (and, in turn, the market) creating the impression that the player is being underpaid in the latter years of the contract.

Some have tried to get there, starting with former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis in 2010 and, more recently, continuing with Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins last year. To date, no player has gotten that sort of term.

Jason Cole of Bleacher Report recently noted that “[s]ome agents and people within [the] NFLPA are increasingly suggesting” that star players tie their contracts to a percentage of the cap. It’ll happen only when a great player has maximum leverage, presumably upon hitting the open market and creating a land rush for his services. It probably also needs to be a franchise quarterback.

While most big-money, long-term deals are meaningless beyond the first couple of years, a franchise quarterback tends to continue to play every year of his contract, until it’s time for another. To date, however, no true franchise quarterback has tried to get the out-year protection that comes from tying compensation to cap percentage. Not Aaron Rodgers (who refuses to admit he’s underpaid because to do so would be to admit he did a subpar deal four years ago), not Peyton Manning in 2012 (when teams were lining up to get him), not Tom Brady at any time, not Ben Roethsliberger, not Drew Brees, not Russell Wilson, not Andrew Luck (who may not be a true franchise quarterback yet, but who had plenty of leverage when he did his second deal), not anyone.

There’s still no guarantee that a player would get that term. It’s believed that the highly-influential Management Council has encouraged teams to resist, which makes the refusal to tie wages to cap percentage arguably collusion, if there were ever a paper trail to prove it.

Cole mentions Odell Beckham Jr. and Derek Carr as current star players who potentially could get a piece of the cap to account for future spikes, but Beckham is two years away from having his best leverage (unless he’s willing to hold out from mandatory activities and ultimately skip games) and Carr has one more year before he can put the Raiders on the verge of the Cousins-style year-to-year franchise-tag dance.

It’s really not all that controversial of a term, which makes the refusal of teams to do it even more confusing. The team and the player would set the salaries and guarantees for the first two or three years of the contract, and then starting in the third or fourth year of the deal he’ll have a set salary along with a roster bonus or some other payment aimed at bringing his total pay for the year to a certain percentage.

For example, if the Raiders were to sign Carr to a contract worth $25 million per year (which would represent 14.9 percent of the 2017 salary cap of $167 million), Carr’s contract would ensure that, come 2019 or 2020 (and beyond) he’d always be making 14.9 percent of the total cap.

If Rodgers had included such a term in his 2013 contract worth $22 million per year, which represented 17.8 percent of the $123 million salary cap in the year it was signed, he’d be making $29.72 million this year. Instead, he’s making $13.65 million.

Accounting for his signing bonus, Rodgers actually is at $20.3 million this year. Still, that’s nearly $10 million lower than where he could have been if the deal had fully accounted for what has become a 35.7-percent hike in the cap since Rodgers signed.

Of course, a term like that could make a team more likely to squeeze a player to take less or to simply cut him in latter years of the deal, given his overall cash and cap burden. But getting a crack at the open market because the team thinks the player is making too much is always better than being tied to a team by a contract that doesn’t pay nearly enough, and having no way to improve the situation without alienating fans who always applaud owners for trying to make more money and consistently chastise players for doing the same.

51 responses to “Is progress being made toward paying players a percentage of the salary cap?

  1. I can’t think of one good reason to do this. Possibly one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard.

  2. The way the cap goes north every offseason shows that the players got a heck of a deal in the last round of negotiations. People all say the owners got the better deal. But Lots of average players are cashing in since it was agreed too.

  3. I know I’m in the minority saying this, but would love to see more players go the Revis mercenary route. Showed true confidence in his skills, I thought

  4. Something needs to be done about paying players a proper wage, because it seems like almost every year a player wants to be paid top dollar at their position. In 10 years, QB’s will be paid $50 million a year at this rate.

  5. The proration of signing bonus complicates this. Player has $10MM bonus on a 5 year deal, which counts $2MM per year against the cap. Player is due to be paid 5% in year 4.

    Does he get a salary of 5% or a salary of 5% minus the prorated bonus?

    If it’s the former, and the cap increases less than expected, the team risks allocating more than 5% to the player (which isn’t terrible if there are only a few of these, but if you have a bunch of these you could wreck your cap). If the cap grows more than expected, the player gets paid more than the team may have paid in a fixed deal.

    If it’s the latter, and the cap increases less than expected, the player risks receiving less than what they would have received in a fixed deal. If the cap increases more than expected, then joy to the player, but the owner doesn’t like it.

    In either scenario, there is risk to both sides. Compare to the fixed contract, which could be structured in a way that simulates a percentage of cap with an agreed upon assumed growth rate and both parties have “certainty,” to the extent that you can have certainty in a contract.

    People like certainty.

  6. Never really thought a salary of $13mil/yr as being under paid. Is Rogers, Brady, Luck or Manning curing cancer or Alzheimer’s? They are playing a game in buildings that are more often than not, paid for by local tax payers. The world has gone mad. What exactly are you not being able to enjoy at a salary of $13mil that you would be enjoying at a salary of $20 or $30. Million per year? How many houses or super cars can you live in at one time?

  7. Not to mention the players already distrust the owners. A bunch of them sign up for a percentage of the cap and all of the sudden the cap grows less than expected and it’s a fiasco.

  8. Poor multmilliomaires and their problems. Congress needs a new czar to investigate this.

  9. Not all change is “progress”. This being a perfect example. I wish some “news” sites would stop opining and just report news.

  10. Yeah players are only making 7 or 8 figure incomes, must be terrible how they’re forced to live in poverty while 99% of people will never even sniff those numbers

  11. And how do you factor in performance pay?

    They should just do away with signing bonuses being prorated over several years (which effectively makes the “bonus” no different than the guaranteed part of a salary), and allowing payments made long after a guy has left, and all the other massages done to get around the very concept of what an annual salary cap should be. So don’t give them yet another mechanism with which to manipulate/obscure cap limits.

  12. There’s another problem with getting a percentage of the salary cap. Every year the better teams with a star quarterback face the issue of having enough money to afford the supporting staff. Look at the Seahawks and their offensive line. Simple problem of not enough money to afford good players there because the money is tied up on defense and their quarterback. Unless they can draft offensive line players without ‘reaching’ in the draft or getting lucky with undrafted free agents, their offensive line will continue to be poor.
    Every year players are cut because there’s not enough money. Not because they’re no longer productive but a less expensive player is available. With players getting a percentage of the salary cap, more of this will occur.
    I understand the role of the agents is to get every possible dollar from the team for his client but at the expense of the team? Not a good idea.

  13. The only players who could do this is QBs, and there aren’t enough of them to make it an issue. Why it happens in the NBA is because there are less players, and one great player can so impact your bottom line, financially and in wins. Nothing comparable in the NFL. I’ve argued that shorter term deals is the way non-QB players should go at maximum value like Revis did during his prime. Also, this would necessitate shortening rookie deals on the next CBA to 3 years tops since we all know who is and isn’t a bust by then absent injury concerns that come up later. Fans might hate you for being a mercenary, but you have to do what’s best for you since fans will discard you quickly if ownership tells them to in most instances.

  14. Does not matter to me…..I used to attend several games a year for the last 45 years. The total cost of attending a NFL game has priced me out of the market. Once a major NFL fan……now a casual observer.

  15. Fans always applaud owners trying to make more money? Do you even read your own site? Most fans hate owners trying to push their product overseas, too many commercials and games every day. Most of us wish they’d be happy with the billions they already make and quit messing with the game we love!!

  16. You are over looking something.

    Currently a team can afford to over pay a star player because they expect to have some cushion at the end of the contract. (i.e over pay 3MM in year 1 and under pay 3MM in year 5)
    If a player wants to get paid say 15% of the cap, a team will never get a break on the back end of the deal, so this amounts to a pay increase.
    The team will agree to a cap tie, but not at 15% but at a lower number.

    Only a franchise QB could pull this off, and only if they have leverage (i.e. Kirk Cousins).

    In the case of Carr, why wouldn’t he want a traditional 25MM contract done now, rather than taking risks and playing this yer, and then next under the tag, while making less?

    If a QB demands absolutely top dollar, screw the teams chances of signing other players, and refuses any contract other than one tied to a cap, the team either has let him walk (after 2 tags) or can try and negotiate a lower initial salary, since it will rise.

  17. The only players that are really getting screwed are running backs, because their shelf life is so short. Everyone else is just fine.

  18. When a franchise QB signs a contract at a fixed amount, the Percent of cap declines each year so you need to look at the average over 5 years. You can’t just take the first year and say “He gets 14.4%”, when the average over the life of the contract may be 12.75%.

    For a player to get a fixed percentage of cap, he’s going to be offered a lower number, and probably not make that much more, unless the cap skyrockets.

    I can’t wait to see what happens when the cap increases flatten out as they will have to eventually.
    And at some point the cap could decline a tiny bit. I’d like to see the players face then.

  19. In a capitalist country such as the US, players should negotiate their contracts directly with local governments, and taxpayers should pay players’ salaries. That way it would seem more logical for working class taxpayers to pay for NFL stadiums. Or, maybe we should allow Senator McCain to decide if it’s a good idea, since he’s so mentally on top of his game these days. Or, we could just say the heck with it and start a war, because thinking straight is so hard to do.

  20. I think this is a really bad idea. I’d rather see better guarantees for players than the current “contracts” do. Sure, big ticket players would be guaranteed a percentage. The argument is the team can afford that each year. But it also never lets the team get to the point where they can use the extra cap space to get other pieces. If you always have to pay your big ticket players the same %, you could end up screwing yourself if a player ends up tanking. Imagine being stuck with a 30 m contract for 4 years with a player who sucks.

  21. And why would paying individual players a percentage of the salary cap be considered progress? The players as a whole get a fixed percentage of the salary cap.

  22. This drum is almost as worn out as the “Kaepernick is a victim” drum and it is just as bad of an argument.

    When a marquee player signs a new deal he sets the top of the market. He’s getting paid more than anyone else at the position ever has. And he also knows that the next marquee guy at his position will get a bigger deal a year or two down the line. So what? The first guy to sign has security that the second guy doesn’t enjoy until his contract time rolls around. This inane idea would bump up salaries for guys who have already benefited from the security of the long term deal.

    Sign the deal and live with it.

    And, yes, that should go both ways. Teams should have to live with the deals they offer, not back load them and then cut the player before having to pay the man.

  23. Why would the NFLPA want to do that? That would only assure that the top 5 players on a team get a bigger piece of the pie, at the expense of the other 48.

  24. It’s an idea that has “Some Merit” but there would have to be a lot of language involved to clarify rules.
    As simple as it sounds I’m sure it could be a tangled mess when 1st rolling it out.
    I kinda like the idea. The NBA does something similar.
    Granted the NBA teams rosters have less than 1/4 of an NFL roster. There would have to be a rule where eligible players have to have 4 or 5 years in the league to qualify.
    I think “most” NFL GM’s have a budget of what they are willing to pay per position group. It could work provided the NFLPA doesn’t get too greedy for the next contract.

  25. “he’d be making $29.72 million this year. Instead, he’s making $13.65 million.

    Accounting for his signing bonus, Rodgers actually is at $20.3 million this year”

    Of course you have to account for his signing bonus. I know that using $13.65 helps tell your story, but don’t be like one of those players that cries about being paid one amount this year and forgets that he got a huge check up front.

  26. My guess is that the teams will adjust just fine to this plan. If quarterback X is worth $100M over 4 years, it can be $25M per or $20M plus predicted cap percentage increases. Teams are still going to only pay what they’re willing to pay, they’re not one year going to think “crap we had no idea this cap was going up and now we are screwed.”

  27. This is a total misread of what players care about.

    They don’t care at all about maintaining a percent of the cap, they care about being the highest paid at the position or the league. A player is therefore, much more likely to request a 5% bump over any contract awarded a player at a similar position. The team could counter structure that they received a percentage commencerate with their standing at that position.

    Using some metric, the player gets 5% more than the player directly behind him in some key ranking (for QB: QB rating). Therefore the player bets on himself. Play the best, and you will always be paid the best. Slack off, and well, that’s on you bro…

  28. The player’s union should push for some sort of flexible cap. When a team drafts a player, that initial cap hit should be the total impact that player can ever have for that team. It would reward teams for drafting well, and foster continuity with players remaining on teams. Nice compromise cuz they are never getting guaranteed contracts. The guys that risk the most health-wise have the worst deal.

  29. Time for the players to be paid on performance . Come up with a formula to pay each position . You would see players preforming like it was a contract year .

  30. How can this possibly help players overall?

    There is a cap every year that every team must spend on player salaries. So if a star gets a bigger piece of the pie in later years of his contract, he is by definition taking money away from his team mates. He isn’t taking one penny more away from his owner.

    Now if the NFLPA can negotiate a bigger percentage of revenue going into player salaries, that’s a different story, but what Florio advocates does nothing to benefit players in general.

    Willing to listen, but explain how I’m wrong.

  31. The simplistic math that the author used to try to illustrate the workings of this proposal indicate that Florio doesn’t understand the actual workings of NFL salary structures. I know from reading his writing in the past that he actually does understand the salary cap and contract structures, which makes me wonder why he would do such a hack job of trying to explain the proposal.

    Trying to say that ARod is on $13 or $20m, when he signed a contract with an APY of $22m, then arguing that he is somehow underpaid by $10m, is simply disingenuous. Florio has to know this.

    If he wants to move this proposal forward, he would do better to put forward legitimate arguments that reflect the reality of NFL contracts, instead of manipulating numbers to try to exaggerate the point.

    Cousins may be the first quarterback with the situation and mindset to sign a ‘percentage of cap’ contract. Florio’s wrong if he thinks that Rogers, Cousins, or anyone else is signing a deal worth 14.9% of the cap. Florio has tried to apply the biggest percentage hit (Year 1) to the entire contract, instead of accurately accounting for the contract’s percentage impact from beginning to end.

    A percentage deal for a franchise quarterback would likely be more along the lines of 12-13% of the salary cap… not 15%.

  32. Are we talking league cap or team payroll?
    That could be a sliding scale.
    PLayers want the cash in the bank. So do agents.
    Uncertainty is bad and present value is > future value.

  33. so many saying ‘how can you complain about making millions?’ So how is it different for owners that get a %age of the TV deal, that amount to tens, or hundreds of millions?

  34. The reason I think this is a bad idea is that teams’ front offices and capologists would not be able to accurately predict future salaries for star players since the rate the cap rise year-to-year is a variable.

    That would make it hard for future team spending, and it would be harder to sign premier free agents since a team’s high-end players salaries will no longer be locked in to a specific amount and the GM may not know if they can afford that FA’s salary next year or the following year if the cap rises susbstantially.

    And remember — when the cap continues to rise by 10+ % every year, EVERY player, not just the elite QB or star WR, feel they deserve raises/restructuring as the cap increases. So it’s not just the salaries of the elite players who were able to negotiate a salary that increases as the cap does (a percentage of total salary cap); EVERY PLAYER will be in line for increases.

  35. guiness17 says:
    Jun 11, 2017 9:45 AM
    so many saying ‘how can you complain about making millions?’ So how is it different for owners that get a %age of the TV deal, that amount to tens, or hundreds of millions?
    Owners carry ALL the financial risk, put money back into the team, upgrade stadiums, pay support staff, pay for the food, travel, hotels throughout training camp and the season, pay the 40+ players who don’t make the team every year, etc. No players do any of that. They are well compensated for the risks they take and the players collectively get a sizable percentage of the league revenue…including the TV deals you mentioned. Players complain about getting cut or renegotiating on the back end of the deals yet that is precisely why they get that bonus up front. Players can lie to the training staff and hide injury so they can get on the field…and then turn around and sue the league for letting letting them get away with it while their injuries get worse. Walmart does not pay cashiers based on total company profit so why should sports teams pay players based on profit? How many players offer to give money back when they get injured and can’t play? How many get paid less because they performed poorly?

  36. Here’s a thought. How about, when the cap goes up, the team uses the extra money to pay other players because, as the Saints’ have shown, having a great franchise quarterback isn’t enough to make the playoffs, much less win a superbowl.

  37. Ashley says:
    Jun 11, 2017 3:00 PM
    Here’s a thought. How about, when the cap goes up, the team uses the extra money to pay other players because, as the Saints’ have shown, having a great franchise quarterback isn’t enough to make the playoffs, much less win a superbowl.

    The Saints with Brees have as many Super Bowl wins as the Packers with Rodgers.

    Actually, since the divisional realignment in 2002, only three teams have won the Super Bowl more than once: Patriots, Steelers, Giants.

    Both the Steelers and Giants pay a premium for their quarterbacks. The Patriots have the luxury of Brady being willing to settle for less (pay) in order for more (talent around him).

  38. Liberals are pushing this. The thing is that players demand all of the benefits with ZERO liability.

    Players, and their union, CANNOT have it both ways.
    They play a game that has physical risks, but THEY have ZERO legal liability.

    Players cause 99.9% of the problems that the NFL has. How about this ANYTIME an NFL player is caught using illegal drugs, raping women, beating women, getting DUIs, running afoul of the law, etc, the salary cap DECREASES and any player who brings negative publicity to his team or the NFL itself, must forfeit all bonuses and pay his signing bonus back in full.

    When this happens, I’d be in favor of giving the players some latitude in terms of salary cap percentage.

  39. “Liberals are pushing this.” Really? Huh, here I was under the impression that I thought this cap percentage idea is ridiculous. Glad someone stepped in with his caps lock key to correct my mistaken impression of what I think I think.

  40. Answer: No; mainly because this is some imaginary issue you keep peddling here. Nobody else is considering it.

  41. bkostela says:
    Jun 11, 2017 5:58 PM

    Both the Steelers and Giants pay a premium for their quarterbacks. The Patriots have the luxury of Brady being willing to settle for less (pay) in order for more (talent around him).


    A lot of that has to do with Brady being married to a supermodel who has a salary and net worth higher than his own. Talk about being overpaid though…

  42. Deals are currently made with the anticipation of a growing cap in the future.

    Florio, I don’t know why you think a player is entitled to a set percentage of the cap. Teams and players are well aware of future cap estimates when carving out deals, yet both sides seem to continue to agree on contracts.

  43. packers291 says:
    Jun 19, 2017 12:30 PM
    Deals are currently made with the anticipation of a growing cap in the future.

    Florio, I don’t know why you think a player is entitled to a set percentage of the cap. Teams and players are well aware of future cap estimates when carving out deals, yet both sides seem to continue to agree on contracts.
    It is all about the pro union mantra of “sticking it to the man”. Probably makes him feel righteous because he thinks he is sticking up for the little guy. There are no rational arguments for many of his pieces involving pro union stances but he is very consistent on siding with the players on almost any issue.

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