The 2008 free agency season is well and truly underway at this point, and with all the different signings that have taken place thus far, people will analyze and tell the masses whether they think a team has "overpaid" for a particular player, or whether they got them for some sort of bargain price. But can a team really "overpay" for a football player in the traditional sense of the word? At first, I was under the impression that they could. . .but the more I think about it, the more that I'm not sure that's the case.
First off, let's consider what the NFL Salary Cap has done over the past couple of seasons. In 2005, the NFL's salary cap was $85.5 million. In 2006, thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the number jumped to $102 million. Last year's salary cap was $109 million, and this season's cap comes in at $116 million. Overall, that's an increase of just over $30 million in just three years. However, over that same period of time, the size of an NFL roster has remained exactly the same. It was 53 players back in 2005, and it's 53 players in 2008. There's also a "salary floor" that teams have to meet, which is approximately 85% of the salary cap. . .in this case, a total of $98.6 million. In essence, there's more money available for each team to fill their roster with exactly the same number of players.
Because of the dramatic increase in the salary cap over the past few years, there are fewer and fewer teams that have to experience the kind of "cap hell" that the Beloved Purple experienced in the early part of this decade. It used to be the case that being $25 or $30 million under the salary cap was a big deal. This off-season, according to the website Ask the Commish, there were no fewer than 13 teams that had at least $25 million in cap space available going into the off-season. As far as roster moves, it used to be that one of the big events in the NFL was the last week of February. After all, that's when all the "cap cuts" took place because there were usually 10-12 teams that had to cut players to get under the salary cap. Now, the "cap cuts" have been replaced with "guys that are too old and/or a liability in some way." There was only one team. . .the free spending Washington Redskins. . .that was OVER the salary cap going into the free agent season, and even they managed to get under the number.
So rather than just a few teams having huge amounts of cash to throw at certain players, there are LOTS of teams that are flush with cash on the first day of the NFL year. Because of the amount of money available and the number of teams that have it to spend, we move from being all about the base numbers to how much a player is worth to a particular team.
I, personally, have always been of the belief that you're worth whatever someone is willing to pay you for the services you provide. Picture yourself working at Spacely Sprockets making widgets for $1 million a year. You're doing well, the company is doing well, everything is working out great for everybody. Now, as you near the end of your contract, you pick up the phone and give a call to the folks at Cogswell Cogs. They tell you that if you come and work for them, they'd be willing to pay you $3 million a year. Their business is lagging behind somewhat, but they think that an individual like you could play a big role in pushing them to the next level.
Now, you go to your boss' desk and tell him that Cogswell Cogs has offered you $3 million a year to do the same job, and that you're considering taking the offer. At that point, your boss has a question to ask themselves. . .and that decision is "Is this man/woman worth $3 million to me and this company?" If they determine that you are, then they'll match that offer, and you'll stay at your current job. . .if they determine that you aren't, then you go back, clean out your desk, and start work at Cogswell Cogs on Monday morning.
The same basic principle applies in the case of NFL free agent signings. Let's put this in the context of the case of our highest profile signing to this point, WR Bernard Berrian, late of the Chicago Bears.
As the end of his contract approached, Berrian's former employers in Chicago made him a contract offer to stay in the Windy City. His agent then proceeded to get on the phone and attempt to gauge his client's value elsewhere. After further review, he determined that Berrian could get more money from numerous other teams than he could get from the Bears. So, Berrian chose to take his services elsewhere and, like any sane person would do, he looked for somewhere that would allow him to maximize his opportunities. As he was regarded as the best non-Randy Moss wide receiver on the market. . .and numerous teams had wide receiver on their list as an off-season priority (Jacksonville, Oakland, and Tennessee, among others). . .he knew he was going to be getting significantly more than he was being offered in Chicago. It would now be a matter of which team thought he was worth the most. In the end, the Minnesota Vikings thought that Bernard Berrian was worth enough to them to offer him $16 million in guaranteed money over the course of a six-year contract.
Now, is Bernard Berrian worth $16 million in guaranteed money to EVERY team in the NFL? No way. . .if he goes to a team like Arizona or Indianapolis with those sort of contract demands, he gets laughed out of the building.
If the Vikings hadn't given him that sort of guaranteed money, would he have gotten it from somewhere else? You bet your ass he would have. He had a visit to Oakland scheduled on Saturday afternoon, but the Vikings did such a complete job of bowling him over with an offer that he didn't even make it that far.
(And don't think for a second that Oakland wouldn't have given him that kind of money. Hell, they just guaranteed $18 million to a DT that missed half of last year with a torn ACL. . .what would they have given a guy that actually did something last season?)
Last season, the Vikings actually offered the most money to the guy that was considered the best free agent wide receiver as well, that being Kevin Curtis. Despite being offered more money by the Vikings, Curtis ultimately signed with the Philadelphia Eagles after meeting with the Vikings and Lions, among other teams. Could Berrian have done something similar? Sure, he could have. . .but in the end, he decided that the best place for him was Minnesota. Frankly, I'm really starting to come around on this guy.
Did we "overpay" for him? I don't think so. The Vikings offered him what they thought he was worth to them, and Berrian accepted. Once again, you're worth whatever someone is willing to pay you, folks.
I hope that everyone's weekend out there went even half as well as mine did. Thanks to everyone out there that wished Mrs. Gonzo and myself well on our anniversary, too. We appreciate it. Until tomorrow, have a good night, ladies and gentlemen.