A Q-and-A on the NFL salary cap, with a former team executive on one side and a former agent on the other.
Jerry Angelo, former general manager
Q: What is the most misunderstood thing about the salary cap?
A: “When you pay your own players, either as free agents or extending a player’s contract. The general public feels like those players don’t count, because they were players on your team. Far from it. They are free agents and the money spent extending a player’s contract came from the funds you allocated for free agency.”
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Q: How big a role does it play in a general manager’s job?
A: “It takes up a lot of your time as a general manager to stay up on the current events of free agency. It’s a moving target and until you hit the bull’s-eye by signing a player you targeted, you are continually monitoring and communicating with your cap person and agents. If a player you intended to sign, signs with another club, you have to go to your fallback plan. So you are spinning a lot of plates at one time.”
Q: When negotiating with an agent, how often does the salary cap and where the team stands with the cap (both in the present and where they’re headed) come up?
A: “When we’re talking about a coveted player, rarely does an agent take it to heart and work with the team. He could (not) care less about the team’s plight and their cap. His bottom line is getting as much money for his player as he can. He may play ball with you in how the team wants to defer the money or the structure a team may want to create; i.e. most agents look at the first three years of all long contracts and focus on the guaranteed money.”
Q: How often do teams have to cut good players solely for cap purposes?
A: “Every year a good handful of teams find themselves in that situation, because they did whatever they had to do to sign players in the previous season. It may have been short-sighted thinking, but they felt the risks were worth it.”
Q: How much of a battle or tension is there typically between a coaching staff and the front office over whether to keep a player or cut him for cap reasons?
A: “Those are very tough decisions, but the coach has to understand that if we keep the player you are alluding to, then it’s going to cost us something. He and the GM have to agree they are willing to live with the consequences. If they can’t agree, it can get contentious.”
Q: Red Bryant was released two years into a five-year contract with the Seahawks taking on $3 million in salary-cap costs into the future (so-called dead money). Was that to make room for Pro Bowlers or other free agents?
A: “Looking at it now, it was for Michael Bennett. Seattle has too many players coming up to pay big money to incoming players. It would really send the wrong message to everybody, including the agents.”
Q: Do you try to leave yourself wiggle room during the season?
A: “The smart teams plan for injuries and set aside a reserve of three to four million under the cap. In the event they don’t use it for replacement players, they can use it on player extensions.”
Joel Corry, former agent
Q: What’s the most misunderstood thing about the salary cap?
A: “I think one of the biggest misconceptions about the cap is it can be an excuse or justification for when you want to release a player. If you really want to keep a player, you’ll find a way. The cap is used an excuse. And it’s also used as an excuse when a team doesn’t want to sign a player or go to a certain contract level.”
Q: How often does the salary cap and where the team stands with that come up when you’re negotiating with a team?
A: “I always looked at it this way: I’m not overly concerned with your budget. You can bring it up, and teams plan in three-year snapshots. But my concern is my client, so I’m only going to be so sympathetic to that. I’ll take it under advisement, but I’m not going to let that be overly persuasive.”
Q: How often did you find teams cut players who were pretty good just for cap purposes?
A: “I’ll give you a case-in-point of gross cap mismanagement. One of the guys I helped represent was Keenan McCardell. In 2001, he had a 90-catch, 1,100-yard season. Jacksonville had been in that window where they were trying to win a Super Bowl and didn’t pay in regards to the future…A guy with that type of production shouldn’t be a cap casualty, but they had mismanaged the cap so much they released him. That’s probably my biggest story of a guy who was highly productive, his salary was where it should have been, but he was a cap casualty. His second year in Tampa, he goes to the Pro Bowl. It wasn’t because he couldn’t play. It was because they mismanaged the cap.”
Q: How much do you try to read the market and say, OK, here are the defensive ends available in the market, where does my guy fit in?
A: “It’s a fluid process. You may have a target price at the beginning of free agency, and in talking to teams you may find out nobody is going to get close to that. And if no one is going to get close to that, you’ll have to adjust accordingly. I’ve had situations where we had a guy who had a bad year going into free agency, and everything we told him was, ‘You need to be prepared for a soft market. You may have to start looking at one-year, prove-it deals.’ And then some team we didn’t expect had a different perception of him, and you get a deal we didn’t think was possible.”
Q: We hear a lot about teams restructuring deals. Is that pushing the problem with the salary cap to the future?
A: “It basically kicks the can down the road. You didn’t see as many this year with the growth of the cap…You’re just shifting money around in a simple restructure. You’re not taking a pay cut. You’re not getting an increase. You’re basically taking money that was base salary or roster bonus and turning it into signing bonus so you can prorate it over the life of the contract…As a player, you’re potentially putting yourself more at risk in the future by raising your cap number. If you have a bad year and there’s not a ton of bonus proration with your future cap numbers, your roster spot could be in jeopardy.”
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org