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30 Aug 2005

Black and Blue Report: Triad of Terror

by Will Carroll

The first couple weeks of this column have been more about what it's not than what it is. As I try to find my footing here in the football world, seeing if we can do here what UTK has done in baseball, adding on to the established field of sports medicine by focusing our eyes on how injury affects the outcome of seasons, I'm taking baby steps. This isn't going to be an exhaustive guide to who will play and who won't. This isn't a comprehensive look at injuries, delving deep into the science. It's an overview, intended to whet your appetite to understand, to dig a bit deeper into the problem of injuries in sports, and to appreciate the work that the world-class medical staffs do across the game. I'm just a small cog in a big machine and I'm happy cogging along.

Let's get to it:

Maybe there's no such thing as the sophomore jinx. While we all wait to see if Ben Roethlisberger can make the AFC look more like the MAC again this season, his supporting cast keeps hobbling off the field. First, Duce Staley went down and now The Bus has a flat. Jerome Bettis has a severe strain of his calf, so much so that the swelling and blood prevented a meaningful image of the injury. Another try at the MRI should come mid-week, but current thinking is that Bettis will miss two to four weeks with the injury. Use the MRI as a guide -- if he's able to have it early, as in Wednesday or so, then the blood is dissipating in the leg and he'll come back at the short end of the range. If it takes longer, there's likely a more severe strain and he'll be out longer. Duce Staley's injury makes this one even harder on the Steelers, so they'll be watching the waiver wire closely.

There are few injuries more painful than the dislocation. There are apocryphal stories of players running to the wrong sideline, screaming for someone, anyone to reduce their injury. Once reduced -- or what most people would call "popped back in" -- the injury is seldom serious. There's always some swelling and occasionally some damage to ligaments or capsules, depending on the tightness and structure of the joint. With fingers, you pop 'em in, tape 'em up and move on. Javon Walker can do just that. If the game Friday had been a real game, he likely would have only missed a series or two. It's only surprising that cannon QB's like Brett Favre doesn't cause more injuries like this. We've all jammed our fingers on a catch in the backyard, so multiply that by Brett Favre and you can imagine what it was like for Walker.

The Packers also got away lucky with their other WR, Antonio Chatman. Chatman was making a play on an interception runback when he was hit and knocked out. It functioned like a boxing injury, with a torsional blow taxing his brain stem and shutting down. Chatman was unconscious and had radiating pain in his arms, again, classic signs of a torsional brain injury. The upside is that these don't have the lingering effects of an injury where the brain takes a linear blow, forcing it to slosh around inside the brain pan, bouncing off the inside of the skull. (Yes, it's as violent as it sounds.) Chatman could live up to his promise of getting back to practice this week. While there's still plenty of research to be done on concussions and other closed head injuries, the NFL keeps generating test subjects. It's difficult to say how this will affect Chatman, but my guess is minimal. It is just a guess.

The Raiders weren't counting on much from Doug Gabriel this season. It would have taken a slow start by Ronald Curry, more hamstring problems for Jerry Porter, and ... well, if the Raiders lose Randy Moss, then nothing Gabriel can do would help. Instead, it's Gabriel that's on the shelf. The Raider had surgery to fixate his left middle finger that was fractured. Add in a previous dislocation and Gabriel might want to keep this hand surgeon on speed dial. That or invest in some better gloves. Expect Gabriel to be out around six weeks. Once healed, he'll have no lingering effects.

The Jets lost Andre Maddox to the "terrible triad." Everyone open your book to my essay and read up on O'Donoghue's Triad, as if you didn't already have it memorized. Maddox should be able to return next season from this combination injury of ligaments and cartilage. It would be interesting to know if players that are injured before establishing themselves in the NFL are given as much chance to return from injury. Establishing a baseline of performance is something that college coaches talk about and some studies have shown that injuries to freshman players are considered a severe negative by major college coaches. Maddox heads to the limbo of the NFL injured reserve and hopes to be back in time for minicamp.

I sat trying to come up with some good To Kill A Mockingbird namecheck on Boo Williams, but I'll admit that I've got nothing. No Robert Duvall line, no witty play off the Harper Lee classic, so I'll just dig in on another terrible triad victim. The more interesting note here is that Williams was rushing back from a hamstring injury while battling for a job. Was he out there too early with some strength deficit in his left leg? Did this contribute in some way to the injury to his right knee? Small things can lead to big things, something my principle of "injury cascades" discusses. I'd expected to find them in football, but sometimes, we're just looking for explanations when Occam's razor tells us to just check the usual suspects -- bad luck, bad turf, and bad conditioning.

Allow me to make myself feel old. Back in the day, there was a wrestler named Cowboy Bob Orton who had this cast on his arm that was there for some never-healing injury of indeterminate cause. He'd come in there and the ref would check him for foreign objects, knowing full well that the second he could, Orton was going to clock someone with the cast. Orton's son is now a golden boy in wrestling circles, all bulging muscles and bravado. So what does this have to do with Dewayne Robertson? The Jets DT has a broken bone in his right hand and, given the non-guaranteed contracts in the NFL, has decided to strap on a cast and play. This isn't the first time this has happened, with several players acting the part of Cowboy Bob and using their casted hand as a club. Add this to Robertson's recently discovered lack of knee cartilage and the Jets have to be worried about his durability, if not his desire. The knee is much more problematic, unless you're lined up across from the guy with a club on the end of his arm.

"Stinger." That sounds like a Pop Warner team or another pro wrestling reference. Instead, it's a serious injury that is all too common. Also known as a burner, the stinger is actually a nerve injury caused when the shoulder is driven into the brachial plexus while the head is driven to the opposite lateral aspect. Whoa, now -- that's some big words. It's often easier to look at a picture, at least if you're as big-word-phobic as I am. The problem of stingers is not the short term pain and loss of function, it's the longer-term consequences that come from repeated instances. Dan Gable, the legendary wrestler and one of the greatest coaches in any sport, has nearly lost function in one arm due to repeated stingers. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila has had repeated problems with stingers, something that the Packers are definitely watching. Missle-type players like KGB and some rush-backers are showing a definite proclivity for this injury.

The Matt Birk situation deserves more than just an injury analysis; it's a case study in what goes wrong when there's a lack of trust between employer and employee. It leads to a discussion of the structure of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, including the rampant myth that the salary cap is good for sports. There are just as many loopholes in the NFL as there are in the NBA and frankly, the salary cap is as un-American as it comes. Birk has a torn acetabular labrum, an injury to the cartilaginous structure that cushions and helps structure the ball and socket joint of the hip. Birk elected to have surgery after the Vikings elected not to guarantee his contract for 2006. Get this -- the injury was caused by a succession of hernias that Birk played through. This damages the Vikings' running game and protection scheme while costing Birk only the pain and suffering he's played with for several seasons. The surgery is not major, in the sense that he's likely to make a full and reasonably speedy recovery, giving him time to find a new team in time for minicamp. Next time one of your buddies lauds the salary cap, point out Matt Birk.

Bumps and Bruises

Let's see -- Todd Sauerbrun is playing. Darrell Russell is back. Randy Moss isn't the only player rolling his own. Yeah, drug policy is working fine here ... It's worth noting that any player with a bruise, sprain, or paper cut won't play in the last preseason game. Don't read too much into it ... Correll Buckhalter blew out his knee. Again. Redo's on major knee surgeries actually have a good rate of success, assuming Buckhalter wants to go through the pain and suffering of rehab again.

Posted by: Will Carroll on 30 Aug 2005

63 comments, Last at 03 Sep 2005, 11:37pm by Carl


by Mike W (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2005 - 12:30pm

I believe Boo Radley played more of an H-back role for the Backwoods Country Day School for the Spooky Yet Kind-Hearted football team.

by Domer (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2005 - 2:16pm

Didn't he start out on the Scout team first?

by Mike W (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2005 - 2:35pm


by Goldbach (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2005 - 5:16pm

I think I missed the point of why Birk's injury is an indictment of the salary cap. Wouldn't this instead be a reason for guaranteed contracts?

by Jerry (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2005 - 5:30pm


Doesn't the NFL now require casts to be padded during games so they can't be used (or are at least less effective) as weapons?

by fyo (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2005 - 5:58pm

Latest comments are that Bettis' injury isn't as serious as first feared. Cowher has stated that Bettis *could*, but likely won't, start against the Titans in week 1.

by Andrew (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2005 - 7:38pm

I think Matt Birk made the right move, its probably best for him that they didn't take him up on his offer. That being said, the request was a reasonable one, and by not agreeing to it it shows that the Vikings had serious doubts about his long term future after playing through this season as well.

Well, either that, or there was concern that if one team guaranteed a salary then this would open the floodgates to this being a contract demand, something the League would not allow.

by terry (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2005 - 8:56pm

please rate my players my draft was sunday QB's big ben,hasselbeck, harrington. RB'S LT,s.jackson, l.jordan WR's ward, fitgerald, muhammad,kevin curtis, TE cooley. vandrjagt, atl thanks terry

by Aaron (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2005 - 10:36pm

Uh, Terry ... wrong thread. Probably want to stick that in a fantasy thread.

by Adam H (not verified) :: Wed, 08/31/2005 - 9:38am

Hey everybody Terry is back!

by C (not verified) :: Wed, 08/31/2005 - 12:02pm

I also don't get the Birk thing. You're saying that with no salary cap, Birk would play injured, and that would be a good thing for the sport (in fact, it would be more American)?

by Oswlek (not verified) :: Wed, 08/31/2005 - 1:33pm

Does anyone have some info on Javon Walker? I thought he dislocated a finger in the last game.

by Oswlek (not verified) :: Wed, 08/31/2005 - 1:34pm

Sorry, I scanned through the list twice without seeing his name, then after posting it magically appeared.

by B (not verified) :: Wed, 08/31/2005 - 2:59pm

I think the Birk thing has more to do with the lack of guaranteed contracts in the NFL than it does with the Salary Cap. If his contract was guaranteed and he got injured, he'd still get paid. Since his contract isn't guaranteed, he's assuming all the risk.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Wed, 08/31/2005 - 5:08pm

I don't understand the Birk commentary either. And while the salary cap is certainly anti-free market, I'd have a hard time saying it's un-American.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 08/31/2005 - 11:13pm

Mawbrew, the salary cap is only anti-free market if one makes the common error in thinking that NFL teams are economic competitors. They are not. The Chicago Bears don't compete against the Green Bay Packers. They compete against the Chicago Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, and maybe next year the Blackhawks. They also compete against whatever non-football cable, satellite, and broadcast t.v. programs are aired opposite NFL games, along with anything else people spend their entertainment dollar or time on. From this common misconception of NFL teams as economic competitors flow all manner of erroneous analysis.

I think what the writer is saying is that absent the salary cap, Birk would be playing. I don't think there is much evidence of this, nor do I think there is much evidence that he would be playing if the contract was guaranteed. Guaranteed contracts don't seem to have increased the incidence of MLB or NBA athletes playing through injuries.

Birk made a reasonable request that the Vikings shoulder some injury risk. The Vikings reasonably declined. The fact that neither party was comfortable with shouldering the risk of playing with this injury indicates that he probably shouldn't be playing. It's hard to say why this is a bad thing.

Doing away with the salary cap may serve the most geographically broad fan base well, but only if revenue sharing is greatly expanded. Otherwise, what will inevitably happen is that smart teams with far greater revenue streams will have much more depth than smart teams without such revenue streams. If one believes that maintaining a geographically wide fan base as possible is in important goal, then it is important that the only impediment to every team having an equal chance of winning the Super Bowl is the intelligence of the management.

Many people on this site who decry the salary cap point to baseball as proving that intelligent management alone determines championships, but this is only done through superficial observation; "hey look, Oakland contends better than some teams that spend a lot more money, therefore the ability to spend money on salaries is unimportant!"

Of course, they ignore the observable advantages of being able to spend a lot more money than other smartly managed teams. For instance, there is no reason to suppose that Twins management is any dumber than Yankees management, but when they have met in the playoffs, the Yankees have a massive advantage, in terms of the depth on their bench, something the twins cannot afford. In the late innings of tight games, the Yankees can simply outlast the Twins due to that superior depth.

Depth is far more important in football than in baseball, and by the time a season's worth of injuries have taken their toll, some teams in an uncapped league with inadequate revenue sharing would have a massive advantage in the playoffs. If Scott Pioli and Bill Bellichik were cloned and sent to Jacksonville, in an uncapped league with the current level of revenue sharing, the originals would consistently beat the clones like the proverbial rented mule. Smart is good. Smart with clearly superior resources is much, much, better.

If one thinks that eliminating all obstacles to team success, other than the wisdom of the management, is important, then the salary cap performs well, if we assume the current level of revenue sharing.

by Chris Sanchez (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 2:22am

Only comment....if posted, the site should also date each post. Thanks for the insite....biased or otherwise.

I love trying to read between the lines.


by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 9:06am

Re: 16

Agree with pretty much everything in your post. NFL teams are not economic competitors. My comment on the salary cap being anti-free market was based on the limitation for earnings it places on the players as a group. Certainly MLB has a more free market system (with regard to players) and MLB teams aren't economic competitors either.

Thanks for the thoughtful, well written response.

by Andrew (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 10:29am

Found this interesting note on the compassion of an NFL team towards an injured player from a non-football injury - Safety JR Reed of the Eagles:

"The Eagles aren't obligated to pay Reed, given the circumstances of his injury, but he said he was getting part of his salary. 'They're helping me out. They don't have to pay me - they could let me go. It's not what I used to get paid, but I'm just happy I'm getting something,' Reed said."

Do other teams do this?

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 12:19pm

mawbrew, I guess I's say that a group of people who wish to play football, and a group of people who wish to own football teams, freely negotiated the percentage of revenues devoted to player salaries.

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 4:09pm

"Mawbrew, the salary cap is only anti-free market if one makes the common error in thinking that NFL teams are economic competitors. They are not."

Will, get to the owners' meetings now on the latest DGR proposals. Present that line to the franchises and see what they say.

I get the feeling the Dalls HQ will agree, and Green Bay will tell you to stuff yourself.

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 4:11pm

"Guaranteed contracts don’t seem to have increased the incidence of MLB or NBA athletes playing through injuries."

Yes, but the NFL injury rate is many times more than MLB's or NBA's. Frankly, players don't get as many opportunities to miss games.

For those keeping score at home, for every NFL game a player misses this year will cost him, on average, $70,000 the following year in "cap cuts" or "negotiated salary adjustments."

Want to know why players play injured in the NFL and they don't in baseball? Look no further.

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 4:16pm

"The fact that neither party was comfortable with shouldering the risk of playing with this injury indicates that he probably shouldn’t be playing."

Because contracts are guaranteed in the NBA and MLB, the onus is on the teams to make sure players remain as healthy, happy and productive as possible. If a franchise doesn't like to do this, its insurance carrier will see it's done.

Yes, in the MLB and NBA, teams insure the largest contracts. Not so in the NFL, where players must bear the burden of insuring themselves.

The irony, of course, is that the players with the least likeliest chance of getting seriously hurt also are the highest paid. Which means that the cats most likely to get snapped can't afford the relatively high cost of insuring their wages.

A QB with a $23 million contract might take a few more weeks to clear his head after getting it rung, knowing he's going to be paid a large portion of his wages anyway.

Not so the linebacker on special teams who has to blow up the wedge with his head.

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 4:19pm

"In the late innings of tight games, the Yankees can simply outlast the Twins due to that superior depth."

Which is why the Yankees and As have about the same record over the last four years, an no World Series between them?

Don't worry, George. Cleveland won't be able to outlast you in the ninth.

But see: Arizona.

Good to know the Florida Marlins were able to outlast everyone with their depth.

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 4:23pm

"If one believes that maintaining a geographically wide fan base as possible is in important goal, then it is important that the only impediment to every team having an equal chance of winning the Super Bowl is the intelligence of the management."

I would argue that there is less of an incentive for team owners in the NFL to put out a competitive product than there is in the NBA, NHL or MLB. Why? Because despite newfound, unshared revenue streams that help the bottom lines of some franchises, the vast majority of revenues teams enjoy are shared.

There is a minimum salary cap, but there's no proof that franchises are improved by it. For all the talk about "parity" in the NFL, it's still the smarter teams that win every year, while new ownership teams and dismal coaching give us the Dolphins, Niners, Bengals and Redskins.

Maybe Snyder's high wage team will outlast the Patriots in some game this year. At least in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. All that high-wage depth!

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 4:25pm

If you're a mediocre player in your second contract at a position that's tough to fill, the salary cap has been good to you, sort of.

If you're a star who wants to stay on a team for awhile, keen to develop your skills and surround yourself with the best talent possible, it sucks!

by Kami (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 5:22pm

"There is a minimum salary cap, but there’s no proof that franchises are improved by it. For all the talk about “parity� in the NFL, it’s still the smarter teams that win every year, while new ownership teams and dismal coaching give us the Dolphins, Niners, Bengals and Redskins."

And the Chargers? The Panthers? Oh wait, they did improve in the salary cap era. Dolphins were fine until last year, Niners did OK for quite a while, and the Bengals are on their way up. I don't really buy your example.

And I don't buy the argument that the salary cap has not increased parity in the NFL--16 of the 19 championships between '78 and '95 were won by either Dallas, SF, NYG, Oakland/LA, or Washington. The others? Chicago, and two by Pittsburgh.

Thanks, I'll take today's parity over yesterday's big market domination.

by Kami (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 5:24pm

Make that between '78 and '96

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 5:54pm

Does anyone do research before they post something?

"And the Chargers? The Panthers? Oh wait, they did improve in the salary cap era."

SD since 1994 (the first year of free agency contracts under the 1993 CBA):

San Diego 8 8 0 .500 322 290
San Diego 11 5 0 .688 381 306
San Diego* 9 7 0 .563 321 323
San Diego 8 8 0 .500 310 376
San Diego 4 12 0 .250 266 425
San Diego 5 11 0 .313 241 342
San Diego 8 8 0 .500 269 316
San Diego 1 15 0 .063 269 440
San Diego 5 11 0 .312 332 321
San Diego 8 8 0 .500 333 367
San Diego 4 12 0 .250 313 441
San Diego 12 4 0 .750 446 313

So, in 12 years under free agency and the other items of the CBA, the Chargers have managed three winning seasons.

Were you trying to make a point? I forget now.

I guess if a team had a good year last season after more than a decade of rank mediocrity, then they've "improved" under the salary cap. I'd say the Chargers haven't been exactly wowing teams under the cap.

As for the Panthers -- THEY ARE AN EXPANSION TEAM. The CBA that created the salary cap came on January 6, 1993. The Panthers weren't selected as an expansion franchise by the owners until October 26, 1993.

So the salary cap is OLDER than the Panthers! As I recall, they didn't even start playing until 1995.

Improved under the CBA? They've only existed during the CBA?

Had I argued a point like that, I would have said, "You know, the Decatur Staleys won 10 games before the advent of the Salary Cap. It's done nothing for them since."

The Niners, by the way, last won the Super Bowl with a roster of players they drafted, trained and retained before the Super Bowl came into effect. Since then, despite a couple of good seasons, they've followed a trail blazed by the Chargers.

Into mediocrity, then worse.

Click on my name for a nifty graph of the Bengals. You might notice that they became a worse team under the cap than they were before it arrived.

I would argue that's not because of the salary cap, however, but because of DGR. If all of the major revenues are shared by the owners nearly equally, and there's no financial incentive to win playoff games or compete for talent at the highest level, then you get the Bengals over the last dozen years.

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 5:56pm

"before the Super Bowl came into effect"

Ooops. Salary cap, not SB.

by Ron Mexico (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 6:12pm

Wait a minute, Kami.

From 1994-95 to 2004-5, eight teams have won the Super Bowl. The 49ers, Dallas, Packers, Denver (twice), St. Louis, Ravens, Tampa and New England (three out of the last four years).

In the 10 years before the salary cap, six teams won it. Raiders, 49ers, Bears, Giants, Redskins and Cowboys.

8-6 doesn't exactly look like dominance to me, especially when I see a team like the Patriots dominating like none other. So much for the parity that comes from the salary cap.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 6:32pm

Carl, of course you neglect to mention that one of the Marlins' World Series victories took place when their owner simply decided to spend whatever was necessary, and the Diamondbacks victory took place when their ownership was willing to lose multiple millions of dollars on talent. If you think this is a sound basis for maximizing competitiveness throughout the league, well, you are entitled to your opinion. Otherwise, the examples you provide tend to support my view more than yours.Thank you.

Seriously, is it your position that available resources spent on talent, given two management groups of fairly equal ability, has no impact on the likely outcome of an athletic competition? As to your remarks about Snyder and the Pats, it is irrelevant to the discussion since they don't exist in an uncapped environment, they both are teams with large unshared revenue streams, and Snyder is an idiot. I never asserted that idiocy could be overcome with a large payroll, but rather that smart management would have a very large advantage over other smart management, if one side could spend substantially more. Do you dispute this?

As to guaranteed money and injury, NFL players who think their guaranteed money is not consistent with the risk of injury they are being asked to accept, can and should find other ways to make a living, where they will be more satisfied with what they are guaranteed vesus their risk of injury. I've asked before and I will again; do you think that nearly every sales organization in the world is wrong in thinking that tieing compensation as closely as possible to future performance best optimizes such performance? Do you think the ahtletics industry is different in that guaranteeing compensation, regardless of future performance, does not optimize said performance? why should the customer of the athletics industry desire any compensation system which is sub-optimal in maximizing performance?

by Chuck Fuller (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 6:37pm

"Otherwise, the examples you provide tend to support my view more than yours.Thank you."

Carl is right, Will, because owners don't seek cash flow. They seek a rise in franchise values for sale to other erstwhile billionaire playboys.

Revenue streams don't really seem to match the explosion in franchise sales prices for all professional sports over the last 25 years.

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 6:49pm

Thanks, Chuck. You've read my other posts. If I might borrow a line from Amazon.com: If you liked how right I am about this, then please consider other opinions from Carl, including the need to appraise positional free agents at QB, WR and OL first, then defensive players, with special teams' guys last.

First, Will, I would strongly suggest that as far as labor costs to gross revenues, the NFL is getting off easy compared to most entertainment enterprises, much less the rest of American commerce!

64 percent, and the players pay their own bennies and pension? Sweeeeeeeet.

And we don't even negotiate all revenues, just the big shared ones? Even better.

And our HQ doesn't have to pay taxes on any of it, including our defacto bank, the revolving stadium fund that gives us even more revenues we won't share with the workers? Bettter!

I would say that this component of the entertainment industry is very different from the rest of the industry, much less the rest of the world. You think SAG would put up with this? MLB? NBA?

Again, I have yet to see anyone statistically show me improvement of play because of non-guaranteed contracts. Study after study in MLB, Premier League and NHL disprove the gospel of the NFL, but the canard won't die.

Instead, I see a system wherein contractors are given very little bargaining parity with those seeking their services, especially for the best players.

I could make similar arguments about the NFL draft, but I'll wait until it's Mel Kiper time o' the year for that.

by B (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 6:59pm

GM should hire the NFL's lawyers for thier next labour contract. They'd kill for those labour and pension costs.

by Chuck Fuller (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 7:04pm

"please consider other opinions from Carl, including the need to appraise positional free agents at QB, WR and OL first, then defensive players, with special teams’ guys last."

Uhhhh, no.

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 7:32pm

By the way, research shows that the teams that have prospered under the salary cap (so much for parity) are the Colts, Patriots, Steelers, Titans, Eagles, Rams, Seahawks, Packers and Bucs.

I would humbly suggest that this success has absolutely nothing to do with the cap or even DGRs (although by allowing other teams to become mediocre for their livelihood didn't hurt). It's because they're simply smarter than the rest of the league.

They pay for better scouts, draft better, train players better then spend the right money on free agents to retain excellence.

Scatterplot the performance of some franchises, and the salary cap never helped or hurt them. They sucked or have been relative flatliners no matter what -- Cards, Lions, Jets, Chargers, Skins, Bears, Saints and Falcons.

They were, most years, mediocre before the cap. They continued that tradition after it came into effect.

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 7:34pm

I included the Skins in that list only because looking at their pre-94 standards and their performance over the last decade, I can't really consider them the same team.

Gibbs must feel he's in the bizarro world of the NFC East.

by Chuck Fuller (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 7:36pm

Carl, could you explain why you think those teams have done so well under the cap and the others haven't?

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 7:47pm

Sure. Before the 1978 reforms in the rules that shifted the NFL from a game of rushing and defending the run into a pass-happy, high-injury, TV-friendly league, certain teams were stuck behind the best of the pre-free agency era.

It could take many years to find and train the right talent for these positions (especially O-line and the rotation of RBs), that longterm success naturally fell to those organizations best able to accomplish that feat.

Miami, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Raiders come to mind. Having a great passer and a suitable defense marked the difference between rivals.

After the 1978 reforms, teams began adding parts. The most successful -- SF, Dallas -- found that in an era of largely no free agency they could build dynasties like the pre-78 goliaths.

When the CBA took hold, the also-rans caught behind the leaders immediately began the process of rebuilding their teams, only this time they came armed with draft strategies and free agent acquisition and retention models that favored offense over defense.

The best examples were the Colts, Pats, Packers, Titans, Eagles. Seahawks and Rams. They found outstanding QBs for decent value, then surrounded them with good WRs and OLs. Because so much of a team's success is tied up with the health and happiness of their QBs, they made sure they did everything they could to keep their passers productive and efficient.

Another team, the Steelers, remained on that list simply because of a commitment to excellence at all levels and a strong determination, after the implosion of the Super Bowl teams with age and disabilities, to appraise talent on the most realistic, cost-effective way possible.

The last franchise, the Bucs, are on the list only because they were so truly horrible from 1978-1994. Any season better than slightly mediocre would be a boon to their fans.

The curve has been long, and not so steep, but it's been good for TB.

by Kami (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 9:00pm

I meant improved from one year to the next. I was trying to suggest that top team turnover was common in the salary cap age, and that was intended as a direct counter-argument to what I quoted--it seemed that you were arguing that "bad" teams stay that way just as much in the salary cap age as before.
I'm perfectly aware the Panthers didn't exist, the Chargers are historically bad, and that the Bengals were, on average, better before the salary cap age.
But, I think, bad teams have much more of an opportunity to turn it around now than in the past, and good teams and big market teams have to do more to earn their place at the top each year than before, when it was "Will anybody be able to beat the 49ers and Coyboys this year?"

I, for one, am much less frustrated by the Patriots winning just about every year than I was about the Cowboys in the early '90s. Why? Because they hardly have any of the same players as 2001! Teams can no longer ride on their own success for years and years on end, and that makes the league more interesting.

And THAT is my point. And I stand by it.

by Kami (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 9:01pm


by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 9:24pm

Well, chuck, the ownership of the Marlins and the Diamonbacks, after winning their World Series, dismantled their teams, because they were tired of losing millions of dollars to win a trophy. Thus it cannot be accurately stated that they don't seek cash flow. Also, if cash flow is so unimporatnt, shouldn't the union demand 90% of revenues, certain that management will agree, since they don't seek cash flow? Yes, ownership enjoys mightily the increase in values of frachises, especially when it can be inflated with taxpayer subsidies. The idea, however, of billionaires not seeking cash flow is about the funniest thing I've read in a while.

Carl, I made no representation of what I think players should get, in terms of the percentage of revenues, or how those revenues are defined. If the players were to win 90%, or even 100%, of all dollars coming in, from all sources (and since you think that owners don't seek cash flow, they shouldn't have any trouble in getting it, right?), that'd be fine with me.

The customer, however, is better served with the revenues going to the people whom the customer most enjoys viewing. Your point that you "have yet to see anyone statistically show me improvement of play because of non-guaranteed contracts. Study after study in MLB, Premier League and NHL disprove the gospel of the NFL, but the canard won’t die.", is irrelevant, given that we never have seen a league go from a guaranteed contract environment to a non-guaranteed environment. Whatever studies you've seen cannot address the matter, since there are no examples to study. I ask again; is it your position that human behavior is not modified effectively with rewards tied closely to performance? A simple yes or no will suffice.

As to team performance in the cap vs. non-cap eras, I think you miss my point. I do not assert that a cap is essential to maintaining geographical competitiveness. Given sufficient revenue sharing, which the NFL has had from the start of the T.V. era until recently, a cap is not essential. However, given the increasing disparities in total revenues, often, but not always, based upon which teams can get the taxpayers to be the biggest suckers, a cap becomes much more important.

Truly, is it your postion that the clones of Pioli and Bellechik, if placed in Jacksonville, would fight their originals to a draw, in an uncapped environment, with the current level of revenue sharing? If not, how does such a system serve the fans in Jacksonville?

If I were made football czar, on behalf of all football fans (which is my only concern; the disputes between billionaires and millionaires otherwise concern me very little), I'd throw all the revenue in one pot, and let the players be free agents at the end of each year. I'd then reserve 25 percent of all revenue to the Super Bowl winner, 10 percent to the runner-up, and 5 percent to every other team that made the play-offs. The remaining 15 percent would be split up among the other 20 teams. Owners and players could negotiate whatever they saw fit on an individual basis.

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 9:57pm


This is backward.

"guaranteed contract environment to a non-guaranteed environment"

Actually, proof would come from charting the statistical output of players as they moved from non-guaranteed contracts to guaranteed.

This most certainly has happened, in MLB, NBA, NHL, Premier League and other elite sports leagues.

There has been no marked statistical falloff following a player as he moved from non-guaranteed to guaranteed status. What many people don't realize, for example, is that not every NBA contract is guaranteed.

Much of the hard research on the phenomenon comes up during litigation over contracts, free agency or draft rights (surprise!). See the data crunchers at work before and after Flood v. Kuhn (1972) and the 1979 McCourt decision (NHL).

There's a 1987 NBA study that's also pretty cool.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 09/01/2005 - 11:43pm

carl, the statistical studies are of limited value, because all the statistics were produced against competitors who were making the same transition. If Rod carew hits .325 before Flood vs. Kuhn, and .345 after, well, that means the pitchers did worse, while Carew did better. Truly, though, if it is your thesis that people perform the same, no matter how their compensation is tied to performance, well, that is quite a thesis, and would revolutionize many aspects of management theory. It is strange however, that you seem to argue that guaranteed revenue to team owners affects their behavior, while guaranteed revenue to players does not. Hmmmm, maybe buying a pro franchise changes a person genetically. Or something.

by Carl (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 12:59am

Quite the opposite, Will. What I'm saying is that statistical performance didn't change after players received more generous terms available to most workers (the right to free agency, guaranteed terms in contracts). Basically, owners in four other major sports found, as the axiom goes, they got what they paid for.

I verily doubt that MLB players today somehow are derelict in their duties becasue they are vested union workers who are highly compensated over the agreed-to terms of their contracts.

If so, there would be no one in the Hall of Fame and the league would have collapsed into a heaving mediocrity long ago.

I do not doubt that the lack of guaranteed contracts has some influence on behavior in the NFL. Certainly we can agree that it's forced players to compete injured when they would rather be healing. It's also allowed owners to bargain from a better position and to trim costs to improve efficiency by laying off employees, within the terms of the CBA.

The primary benefit, it seems to me, has been to keep labor costs down, which has kept the owners from locking the players out. That sort of labor peace isn't meaningless.

What the cap hasn't done -- as it's always ballehooed -- is actually improve competition or create parity in the league, despite K's perspective.

Rather, one would think the examples he gave actually proved the opposite.

The problem, of course, is that the financial incentives for players to continuously improve or face an early exit from the league -- or to remain somehow healthy in the most brutal contact sport known to man -- aren't shared by the owners.

The vast majority of DGR was still shared. Playoff earnings are meaningless (in fact, teams incur higher costs than they earn back in revenues). So the current CBA and the owners' sharing of revenue amongst themselves created a paradox.

There's no incentive for them to put out a great product to square off against each other. This has led to a class of annually underachieving lightweights.

Although I concede K's qualifications to his original statement, I still don't see how a team like San Diego can be said to have gained any benefit from the salary cap. They've sucked more often than not. In fact, they were far more competitive in the AFL, paying relatively higher wages for peer talent that could have gone to the NFL.

If I'm a Chargers fan, I'm probably wondering what all this talk about parity is. They only compete once every three or four years.

I don't buy into the "opportunity" business if one chooses not to avail oneself of the so-called "opportunity" and receives the same reward as the over-achievers.

At least with hockey, baseball and basketball, their business models stress winning, with stars, as a successful road to the bulk of their revenues.

Not that it matters because Chuck is right. The real gains that accrue to owners don't come from some amortized allotment of cash from gate receipts or even TV revenues.

They come from selling the damned things. There's only a limited supply of the things, and a high demand for them. The demand, I suggest, has nothing to do with expected cashflow and everything to do with status. That's not so nutty. Billionaires don't buy expensive sedans because they drive better than Yugos.

They buy them because they look better driving a Rolls Royce than something made in Montenegro.

But do the players earn a share of these sales? Did the Vikings cash in when owners snapped up the MN property?


If they did, you might see some real incentive out there! Play for a piece of the pie!

by Carl (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 1:07am

I would now like to reintroduce my insane notion of improving the National Football League.

For this, I take a page out of another football league -- The Premier League.

I hereby propose as czar and most exalted potentate of the NFL that at the end of this season, the two crappiest clubs will be sent to NFL Europe for the following season.

Two teams from NFL Europe will come here to replace their departing pals. The NFL Europe players now become vested, union players. The teams can bargain for free agents to fill out their rosters.

The other players go to Europe. Too bad. Enjoy Frankfurt. Their owners lose out on the revenue streams for the year and the loss in status that comes to franchises of that ilk.

Manchester United will never be remaindered because the MU ownership (hmmmm, do you think they might own a NFL franchise, too?) would never tolerate their flagship in some rinky dink also-ran league.

Let's see if San Francisco or Miami or New Orleans or San Diego is up to that challenge!

I foresee the most competitive teams in the world, with owners scrambling to sign the best players. I foresee improved scouting and hungrier owners. I foresee, in sum, the NFL as it existed before the huge TV contracts.

by Kami (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 2:46am

As a lay person and a fan, I can't really speak to the economics of the system and how they affect the on-field product.
As a lay person and a fan, I can however vouch for the NFL as being far more interesting to follow these days than before.
And, I think, the NFL has increased in popularity in general over the last decade, although I don't pretend to have numbers to support that. Maybe the other leagues are just turning fans away with strikes and steroids and bleacher brawls, or maybe the NFL is really doing something right.

I guess what gives me an opinion in favor of the idea of the salary cap and free agency more than anything else are annual stories of teams that have to purge and rebuild their rosters because of it. Teams simply can't acquire multiple future hall of famers and expect to keep them together for several years--they either have to pick and choose their strengths, a la the Colts keeping their offense together but having to let go of talented young defenders to do so, or mortgage their future trying not to make any compromises, a la the Titans being a top flight team for years before imploding. Superb management can keep a team on top for years (Patriots, Eagles) but they can't just find a bunch of good players, put them on the field together, and then relax and enjoy it like the management of the 80's--they earn it every year with brilliant decisions about how to use their finite resources.
I don't know--and I'm not sure if I care--whether the ownership has more incentive to field a winning football team in one paradigm or the other. I just think I know that in this paradigm, they have a lot less to do with team success than the coaches and the scouts, and frankly I think that's how it should be.
"Which owner bought the right team this year?" is boring. "Which coach is using the best fit players in the best system this year?" is interesting.
So maybe some owners don't care about winning so they don't hire good coaches and scouts, and their franchises are perennial losers. I don't see it, but sure I guess that's possible if the owner gets the same $$ either way (but if the $$ is the same why not just try for a winning team with good coaching and scouting?) But it sure gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling to watch the Redskins ownership shooting themselves in the foot because they're trying to buy their way out of losing.

Maybe I just really don't know what I'm talking about, and maybe Carl or somebody else can show me where I'm wrong. But it seems that arguments over the little details are sometimes missing the big picture. I would posit that the NFL doesn't operate on a graph in an economics textbook.

And as a disclaimer for everything I've said above--I am avoiding the debate about player vs. league/ownership compensation, my points are entirely limited to the perceptions of league parity as pertaining to the salary cap and free agency.

Also, I'm a native San Diegan and lifetime Chargers fan.

by Carl (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 3:05am

K, my job isn't to convince you about anything except three things:

1. James Wilder had the single most punishing year of any running back in NFL history;

2. There needs to be another punter in Canton;

3. We must have a system that cuts two teams every year for failing to compete. I do this solely to make sure I never have to watch the 2004-05 Miami Dolphins or San Francisco 49ers -- or their clones -- ever again.

I will never get those hours back. They are gone to me.

by Carl (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 3:29am

Now that I think about it, K, I think I do understand your perspective.

As a SD fan, it's one of hope. For three out of every four years, your Chargers flop. They really aren't very competitive, and you have to watch teams like the Raiders (who really aren't that much better in the regression than SD) get lucky and win a Super Bowl every one in awhile.

Not to mention Denver.

Karl Marx would understand this phenomenon. Instead of organized religion, we have the worship of the salary cap.

You want to be delivered from the Purgatorio of being a diehard Chargers' fan.

I hear you, brother. But the salary cap isn't the sweet opiate you think it is because this one ain't gonna deliver.

Listen, there's a reason the Cards, Lions, Jets, Chargers, Skins, Bears, Saints and Falcons blow more often than not, even during the era of the salary cap.

It's because the ownership groups haven't been very good. See also, Bengals.

They continue to bring in the same tired kind of coaching, the same worthless scouts who select the same bad players every year to give to assistants who don't develop them adequately.

The Colts take Manning. The Chargers take Ryan Leaf. You can't hear a more tragic plea for help.

But it wasn't the salary cap that gave you Leaf.

I'm a big fan, by the way, of these Chargers (even though they've got a very brutal schedule ahead of them). Last year was no fluke.

It also wasn't a fluke they hadn't properly developed Brees to that point, or installed an offense that really worked for him, or acquired the right teammates around him. Heck, they didn't even want to keep him!

If Phillips and Smith stay and continue to remain nimble and smart, they could dominate out there.

When they start doing that, and the value for their older players increases as they near free agency, will you still love the salary cap?

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 4:17am

Carl, the statistical output is purely a function of the competitive dynamic between opposing players. If the conditions which affect player performance change equally for each player, then statistical output can remain constant, while performance actually declines. Thus, the studies are limited in value, if they have any at all.

As to your assertion about MLB players' behavior and guaranteed contracts, I can only assume you have never heard of a fellow named Manny Ramierez. I can assure you, if contracts were not guaranteed, Ramierez' agent would ensure that ol' Manny understood that in the present market he isn't likely to command 20 million per year, thus it is probably more intelligent to pinch hit when his manager makes such a request. Who knows, Manny might even make an effort to be a competent outfielder if he thought it may increase his chances of keeping his current salary! Of course, you dispute that tieing future compensation to future performance has any effect on said performance, so maybe Manny would throw away several million, to uphold the principal that Manny doesn't pinch-hit when Manny doesn't feel like it.

As to franchise appreciation and cash flow, is it your position that the Redskins are worth roughly $400 million more than the Vikings purely because of prestige? That is quite a remarkable claim, which would demand some remarkable evidence, especially when confronted with evidence of how much more cash the Redskins toss off, cash which is not shared with the rest of the league. Might it not be a more reasonable explanation that the Redskins are worth a lot more because they throw off a lot more cash? Just maybe? Anyways, you still haven't answered why the players simply don't demand, and receive, 90 to 100 percent of DGR, since owners don't seek cash flow. It would seem to be a fairly straightforward negotiation.

In any case, I would certainly applaud any measure which punished under-performing franchises, because it would certainly affect the behavior of ownership, although I'm still puzzled why you think such sanctions improve owner's behavior, while not having the same effect on players. I think owners and players are all homo-sapiens, after all. Unfortunately, I think restricting punishment to two franchises is inadequate, which is why I prefer my system which overwhelmingly rewards a champion, while rewarding amply the playoff teams, leaving only crumbs for the remaining 20.

by Kami (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 11:31am

"If Phillips and Smith stay and continue to remain nimble and smart, they could dominate out there.

When they start doing that, and the value for their older players increases as they near free agency, will you still love the salary cap?"

Yes! What I want as a fan is not the chance for my team to become a dynasty for five years every 2-4 decades, but the chance to have a good year every 2-4 years! Following the NFL is just not interesting when you already know your team doesn't have a chance and won't anytime soon.

I don't think the salary cap system makes sense in classical economics, but that doesn't mean it's Marxism. I think it's much closer to game theory. Strategies of cooperation here trump self-interest and absolute rationality.
One has to remember that football clubs are franchises, like franchises in a fast food chain. Sure, one McD's can find a way to be more profitable by cutting out half the menu and furnishing the dining area with lawn chairs (like fielding a bad team perhaps) if it increases their profit margin per customer by more than what they lose out of volume, riding on the brand name while simultaneously damaging it, but if they really know what they're doing they'll realize that maintaining the same standards among all franchises is a superior economic strategy in the long run for all of them. Likewise an individual McD's could put out a superior product with a five-star dining experience (buy themselves a HoF stocked winning team) and maybe make a lot of profit that way, but that would also further hurt the brand name as customers would come to expect inconsistency.
A league-wide mandated salary cap is like McD's corporate imposing certain standards on franchises who carry the name, and I don't think that is anti-capitalist in any way. Some McD's will always be more profitable than others, and most of that has to do with location, the rest with management. What's important for the customer (the fan) is that the poor ones can make just as good a big mac as the rich ones. It all depends on which 16 year old kids the management hires and how they train them.

by Carl (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 2:53pm

But K, the McDonald's "franchise" is similar to a NFL "franchise" only in name, not in substance.

A McD's franchisee pays the parent corporation a fixed fee. For these right to market a restaurant with the standardized menu and name, the franchisee agrees to remit a certain sum AND purchase products and services from the corporation, a company that is publicly traded on the NYSE, much like many of the very large franchisee chains.

It behooves the franchisee to make as much money as possible or he goes out of business. McD's, on the other hand, tries to make sure that these franchised outlets aren't competing against each other because that could lead to bankruptcy on their part and fewer revenues flowing to McD's.

The NFL is quite different. There isn't a board of directors, a gaggle of disinterested watchdogs guarding over the actions of the league; rather, its a collection of private owners who have ringed themselves into a tax-free cartel.

They do not dispute this, which is why they're a 501C6 corporation, functioning more like a trade organization than a chamber of commerce.

While McD's doesn't want its fee-paying franchisees to go under, many do. That's because although the various restaurants share menus, standardized training, ad buys and marketing, each unit is a on its own to float or sink in the great wash of Capital.

Not so a NFL franchise. Here, the vast majority of revenues are shared with each other. Revolving loans for large capital projects also come from the same pool of cash.

The sole McDonald's restaurant on the corner has a very real incentive to run a clean, efficient and profit-making enterprise -- if it doesn't, it goes under.

The NFL franchise doesn't have the same incentive. It won't go under, no matter how mediocre it is, even if every single fan refused to attend games and the city didn't pay for its stadium.

This, in sum, is the world of the underachievers. They have no incentive to get better or win championships, so they don't. For all the talk about fan-friendly football, I just don't see it for about 30 percent of the league's followers.

by Kami (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 7:23pm

"The NFL franchise doesn’t have the same incentive. It won’t go under, no matter how mediocre it is, even if every single fan refused to attend games and the city didn’t pay for its stadium.

This, in sum, is the world of the underachievers. They have no incentive to get better or win championships, so they don’t. For all the talk about fan-friendly football, I just don’t see it for about 30 percent of the league’s followers."

Maybe so, but I don't believe this is the case with such a limited number of high-profile organizations. If one of 10,000 McD's goes under, nobody notices, but if one of 32 NFL teams goes under (or, at least, makes no attempt at solvency and gets continuously bailed out) people start to notice. Take for example the city of Cincinnati considering bringing suit against the Bengals recently (2002?) for failure to field a competitive team.
I'm not saying that in the revenue sharing environment your example couldn't happen, I'm saying it doesn't. Even the Cardinals seem to be making a good-faith attempt at improving in the here and now. I don't remember them even bothering to try ever before when they simply knew they'd never have a chance anyway. It took them a few years of wallowing around a bit more under the new paradigm, but seems that they finally figured out that while there's no real penalty for staying bad, it really doesn't cost them much more if any to go ahead and try to be good anyway. Ditto, perhaps, for Tampa, Detroit, and Seattle (but I think AZ is probably the best example).
I doubt that NFL owners get into the business entirely because of economics. Surely they care at least somewhat about the game. Now, though, even the small market teams have the hope of competing without taking on the massive risk of enormous payrolls that may or may not result in championships and parlay into greater team popularity and thus revenues. And big market teams, no matter how hard they might try, cannot simply buy their way into success anymore (Redskins).

In the old system, small teams could have fluke seasons or short runs and get to the Super Bowl, but none of these teams ever did actually win it from '78-'96 (assuming the Steelers and Raiders teams were continuations of past success). Those who came closest to bucking this trend were Buffalo, Denver, and Cincinnati I suppose. I'd like to see numbers on how profitable those organizations were during their successful years as compared to those juggernaut NFC East teams and SF. It's just a guess, but I'd bet they weren't nearly as much so because the market size/market profile differences are so extreme (Perhaps I should be saying market profile, because the home markets of Dallas and SF aren't unusually large so much as their nationwide popularity is/was so dominating--and it's important to note that Buffalo, Cincinnati, and Denver never achieved similarly).

And sure, teams nowadays can still buy a championship, but only at the cost of assuring future stagnation for several seasons, and no guarantees about the current season anyway.

I think where I disagree with Carl is that I see an optimistic view of what is happening under the current system--that all teams have a chance to compete and so they go ahead and try. It took a while for some of the clubs to come around to this idea (see again, AZ), and some are better at actually doing it than others (NE is way ahead of the curve). Sometime, though, the other guys are going to figure out what NE figured out a while back and follow suit. Those teams that are centered around intelligence, flexibility, and team over individual will dominate until the others figure out that it's not how many Pro Bowlers are on your roster that determines winners anymore.
Even a current team known for its superstars, the Colts, works more on these modern principles than it does not, and they've vastly improved since doing so (Dungy's team as compared to Mora's).

Now I'm rambling...sorry

by Paul (not verified) :: Sat, 09/03/2005 - 12:08am

Carl, I have had the same idea of using the Premier League model for improving American sports. Though with these bloated 32 team leagues, I have a slightly different model. First off, you break every 32 team league into a Premier league of 16 and a B league of 16. Then you add in the NFL Europe as a C league. Similarly in the NBA it would be their development league. In MLB it would be Triple A. etc.
Then, at the end of the year, the bottom 2 or 3 go down, and an equal amount from the lower league comes up. Or 12 in the Top league, with 2 divisions of 6 teams each, play divisional opponents twice, other division once (keeps 16 games). Then a B and C league could each have 12 teams (now full NFL has 36 teams--expansion dollars!)
Only negative is the Draft. Not sure how that could work. NFL loves the spectacle that is the Draft.

by Kaveman (not verified) :: Sat, 09/03/2005 - 3:27pm

Hasn't the NHL just installed a salary cap, and put in stronger rules for revenue sharing, to allow small market teams to compete more effectively with the bigger ones? They certainly seem to think it will improve things for the sport. Now, when the Oilers or the Flames dig up these remarkable young players from their farm systems, they will not have to release them to the Red Wings, Rangers, Flyers, et al as soon as the players reach free agency; they will be able to afford bigger contracts.

Will this mean parity? Of course not--parity will only happen when scouting, coaching and management is equal across all teams. Which it will never be.

What it will mean is that every team will have the ability to compete. That's what the NFL has, and that's what sports fans want.

I'll say nothing about the worth of guaranteed contracts as Will Allen has expressed my thinking on them perfectly.

by Carl (not verified) :: Sat, 09/03/2005 - 4:11pm

Don't get me started on the NHL. It's an entirely different business model, of course, because the revenue streams are so radically different.

Suffice it to say, however, that the primary measure of success in the NHL, according to our research, wasn't free agent signings, or the size of contracts, but the successful assessment of talent before the draft and the training of elite players as they percolated up the ranks.

You must remember that in the NHL, players were held to the longest period of service to teams of any major sport. This was originally designed to bind a player for the sum of his career to one team, and they could do with him what they would, and pay him what they would, or trade him for other players, based on their bottom lines.

What they never expected, however, was that players would condition themselves to remain stars well into their 30s, which heated up the free agent market for suddenly released but still highly efficient players.

The owners then abandoned all fiscal reason and started buying contracts beyond their monetary value.

So, of course, we blame the players for (1) remaining great players with great skills well in demand; and (2) for the imprudent decisions of some owners.

Ironically, small market teams continued to prosper on the ice, against better paid talent. Go figure.

See Rangers or Caps.

By the way, our draft analysis showed that during the era of free agency and growing player salaries, the teams with the best drafts continued to remain on top, regardless of their free agent acquisitions.

The best was NJ, followed by another high tier of clubs, including Detroit.

by Carl (not verified) :: Sat, 09/03/2005 - 4:11pm

As for what sports fans want: They want the best product they can get.

They're not getting it in the NFL. End of story.

by Kaveman (not verified) :: Sat, 09/03/2005 - 6:19pm

Funny then, how the fans seem to think they are. But... leave us not let reality interfere with theory.

by Kaveman (not verified) :: Sat, 09/03/2005 - 6:42pm

I don't quite get your comments about the NHL either, Carl. Who is blaming the players for anything? And why is initial contract length coming up here?

The NHL was in serious trouble, with many of the small market teams in the red and a shrinking market. I, as a fan, got bored of hockey because most times you could look at who was playing and know what the result would be. There was no way that small market franchises could field teams that could compete on a sustained basis.

The NHL owners and Gary Bettman believed, and rightly so, that following the NFL model would result in their product improving in quality, which in turn would resolve their financial difficulties. And they forced the new model on the players.

It remains to be seen whether what they hope will happen does indeed happen, but as a fan of the team, I am delighted that the Avalanche will find it much harder to roll off five straight division titles.

Sure, there will be well managed, well coached teams with great scouting who will perenially contend, and there will be the bottom feeding teams, but there will no longer be a fiscal barrier to a team being a contender.

As the NFL has shown.

by Carl (not verified) :: Sat, 09/03/2005 - 11:07pm

"Who is blaming the players for anything?"

The owners did. And so did some fans.

"And why is initial contract length coming up here?"

Because it's of paramount importance. The NHL's salary inflation problem happened only because owners believed the players had an expiration date. Few ever believed that the best athletes would have productive careers well into their 30s, when their term of duty for a club ended under the CBA.

Athletes, however, proved they could not only remain gifted athletes into their 30s, but their experience and leadership in a free agent market would make them very valuable indeed.

Teams that did not draft well or train their athletes in their long terms of servitude to a particular club found themselves needing a large number of expensive free agents.

Whereas some teams (Dallas, Philadelphia) proved better than others at making up for their first mistakes by finding and retaining free agents, others proved particularly abject at drafting, training, retaining or selecting new players (Rangers, Pens, Caps, Blackhawks).

So that, my friend, is how NHL owners arrived at a lockout.

And, for your information, the reason why the Avs win has not so much to do with payroll as with a very good drafting and training program they brought from Canada.

They only used their prospects as bait for trades of potential free agents. See also, Detroit.

by Carl (not verified) :: Sat, 09/03/2005 - 11:14pm

"but there will no longer be a fiscal barrier to a team being a contender."

But was there ever a fiscal barrier in the NFL to winning? As I presented the data above, there were just as many bottom dwellers in the years before the CBA as there were so-called dynasties.

The package of shared revenues in the NFL already acts as a defacto salary cap for the vast majority of teams. Because all their money is pooled, the teams begin with a structure everyone shares.

Some clubs gain advantages from having revenue streams that so improve the bottom line that they can extend more guaranteed money to athletes (see Pats, Cowboys, Redskins), but for every Patriots victory there's probably been more than a few losses by the Cowboys and Redskins over the past few years.

What I'm saying is that the salary cap has been very good at creating labor stability, with DGR slotted for the players, bennies scraped off of that, and athletes with an incentive to get to that second contract.

But this hasn't been a shared system of incentives. Although the owners believed that a minimum salary cap would at least preserve some competitive balance in the league, it eventually became apparent that the same pitiful ownership groups that controlled the crappy teams before the CBA would continue to put out bad products after the cap.

The owners aren't ready to scrap there current system, even if the players and their union are.

by Carl (not verified) :: Sat, 09/03/2005 - 11:37pm

As for fans loving, or not exactly loving the game, remember that TV ratings for the league continue to dwindle, a fate shared by the other major sports, too.

One can say that the league certainly remains popular, although this is flagging, and will continue to flag, as new media sap viewership, gate receipts and other outlets for revenue.