There has been a shift in the system. A change in thinking. The constant increase in the salary cap has had an effect on the way teams do business and it may affect the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the near future.
The Catalyst and the Trend
When the salary cap started in 1994 it was a measly $34.6 million dollars. A far cry from the cap we have now. Each year the cap increased marginally allowing for an increase in player’s salaries. The increase was not that large from year to year, falling around three to five million dollars. The exceptions were between the 1997 and 1998 seasons when the cap jumped over $10 million. Also within the 2005 and 2006 seasons where we saw a massive jump of $16.5 million. That is until recently.
Since 2013, a season that had a cap of $123 million, the jump has been $10 million a year and climbing. This year the cap is set at $188.2 million, an increase of $11 million over last season. With each increase, the money gets spread out among players and contracts get bigger and with more money comes more demand.
With increased supply, in this case, money, and constantly high demand in a quarterback and defensive linemen we are seeing huge contracts. So as we take a look at Non-Exclusive Franchise Tags values by position, a problem presents itself.
There has been an increase in the prices of players and a fall in purchasing power within the NFL salary cap. Since 2009, the franchise tag has increased to the tune of five to six million dollars per position. Kickers and punters have increased $1.9 million. The outliers on the other end of the spectrum are quarterbacks and defensive linemen with $7.9 million for defensive tackles, defensive ends at $8.2 million, and quarterbacks at $9.5 million.
These increases in the franchise tag value, particularly for the positions mentioned above, eat most of the cap space gained each year. When you factor in the increase in pay per position and then top it off with inflation for defensive linemen and quarterbacks, the math does not line up. At some point, something has to give. Teams want stars in those positions so they then have to decide their fate on a single player.
There is a troubling solution that is slowly building momentum. The “rookie quarterback contract”. The idea is this;
- A team needs a good quarterback to win.
- The quarterback needs a support system
- Offensive line
- Running back
- Tight end
- Wide receivers
- A complementary defense
In order to afford the team that fits all these wickets, a “cheap” quarterback rookie contract aids in signing the players to put around him. It’s extremely conducive to the team’s ability to build a winner as they know you need playmakers everywhere and on both sides of the ball. This the path the Los Angeles Rams are on now.
Resigning a quarterback, the highest paid player on the team, becomes an issue. The contract expected at resigning is possibly going to greatly hamper a teams ability to keep other talent and sign free agents. The Seattle Seahawks just opened the checkbook for Russel Wilson and a few short days later Frank Clark was traded. Granted they came away with one hell of a haul, but to what extent?
Frank Clark is a proven talent, so is Wilson., but the draft is a gamble. Get it wrong and you have sunk your ship, or maybe your quarterback did? Presume the Seahawks draft a player to replace Clark and the player is average, or worse, a bust. You now are missing a key player at a key position to help you achieve number three, a complementary defense.
With this new problem set teams, scouts, prognosticators, and armchair general managers are intrigued by a new idea. Sign the rookie quarterback to a fifth-year extension and then trade him to a quarterback-hungry team with cap space. Using the picks you have acquired, get yourself another rookie quarterback ready to start and can win. The time table becomes a four to five year window to win a Super Bowl while he is still cheap, then reset.
This idea has some interesting effects. First, it drives up the value of rookie quarterbacks during the draft. Subsequently, picks that provide the opportunity for a team to acquire a quarterback gain serious value. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could have benefited from that this year. They could have received a large sum of additional picks in order to trade with another team at number five.
Second, it could slow the growth of the contract negotiations for quarterbacks seeking new deals. Again, the Buccaneers may need this aspect to kick in sooner rather than later. Jameis Winston is on his fifth-year option and will need to be retained next year.
Third, and maybe unforeseen. The fan bases of teams like to root for their team and love for players to stick around for a long time. They love players like Derrick Brooks who spend an entire career with a team. The Tom Brady’s of the NFL keep fan bases alive and thriving. One of the draws of the NFL over college football is that players can stay on teams for longer than three years and you can root for players for long periods of time. Could the fan base eventually be affected?
After all, some of these things may not come about. But there is a breaking point. Something is going to give. It could be that the salary cap stops increasing as much each year, slowly alleviating the pain of increasing contracts for quarterbacks and the defensive linemen. At the end of the day, football is a team effort if you spend the right money.