All congratulations to the NFL owners and NFL Players Association for coming to an amicable collective bargaining agreement on March 8. These athletes and executives behaved like sportsmen. There was no looming fear of a strike and any backbiting that had to be done was kept at the bargaining table and not in front of the cameras while lifting weights or doing sit-ups.
Of course, a little gentlemanly conduct probably wasn’t too much to ask from either party. The players’ union got the salary cap raised from $85.5 million to $102 million for the 2006 season.
And the owners did pretty well themselves.
With the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, or CBA, most players receive a substantial signing bonus, which does not count toward their team’s salary cap, and then a reasonable annual salary. The real beauty of the NFL’s CBA, and the reason NFL owners don’t cry themselves to sleep, is that teams can release players at any time before the free-agent deadline, in which the contract ends with the player’s release.
Wide receiver Terrell Owens’ $25 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys consists of a $5 million signing bonus and $5 million annual salary. So, the Cowboys can afford to take a chance on Owens – kind of like young girls with low self-esteem can go to the prom with that hot upperclassman who never learned the word “no” because he’ll be “different” with them. If someone ends up crying when it’s all over, it will only cost the Cowboys a total of $10 million – Owens’ $5 million signing bonus and his first year’s salary. That’s chump change for a professional sports team.
Players with crazy ‘mad hatter’ tendencies aren’t the only ones to benefit from the recent bargaining. Clutch kicker Adam Vinatieri’s $10 million foot might have had the New England Patriots pleading “free agent,” but he got picked up with lighting speed by the Indianapolis Colts, considering he is a kicker.
The Colts may have splurged a bit by acquiring Vinatieri. Maybe it was because the new salary cap gave them a little extra cash to pass around. Maybe it was the way the Colts lost to Pittsburgh in last year’s playoffs: In the final seconds of the AFC divisional playoff game, Colt’s kicker Mike Vanderjagt booted it wide right, the Steelers won 21-18 and, of course, eventually went on to win the Super Bowl.
Poor Vanderjagt. No one seems to remember the way Pittsburgh dominated the Colts for much of that playoff game, or even the bizarre series of sacks and fumbles that led to his kick. His kick probably got Vinatieri an extra million. Vanderjagt signed a deal with the Cowboys last week, complete with a $2.5 million signing bonus and new teammate Owens. They’re both the new guys on the team, maybe T.O. and Vander-wide-right can have lunch together until they make new friends.
Thanks to the new cap, the Arizona Cardinals, a small-market team with a cruddy won-loss record, got their grubby hands on four-time Pro Bowler and former Colts running back Edgerrin James. The Colts couldn’t afford to keep James for the 2006 season. You see, in the NFL, the best teams aren’t always the richest. So, the Cardinals took their extra cap room and ran with it. Arizona got James for $30 million, including a $7 million signing bonus and a $4.5 million roster bonus to be paid after the first week of the league year.
The overreaching benefits of salary caps – competitive games and trading among teams in large and small markets alike; expansion teams that actually have a chance; and athletes who are accountable for their level of play every season, not just in contract years – are why NFL fans attend training camps and gleefully count down those last hard days before the pre-season starts. Mark your calendars for Aug. 10. Real fans experience withdrawal in the long months between then and the last football fix before summer, the NFL draft on April 29, since you’re marking dates anyway.
Natalie Lavelle can be reached at email@example.com.