Get ready for cap crisis nonsense

With the players and owners reportedly on the fast track according to various ESPN reports we can begin to reintroduce ourselves to all the stories of salary cap hell.

It will happen almost immediately. A team will part with a big-named player, then a coach or GM will shrug his shoulders and say, “The cap made us do it.”

Someone will bypass the chance to sign a free agent and blame the salary cap.

And almost all of it will be nonsense.

There have already been some reports about how the Raiders will be incapable of bringing aboard anything substantial after signing up Richard Seymour and Stanford Routt to contracts before the lockout.

Does anyone remember before the the uncapped season how the Raiders would routinely have these huge overages against the salary cap _ as high as $40 or $50 million _ and then magically be under the cap and still be players in the free agent market?

It happened almost every year. Raiders cap strapped. Raiders make splash in free agency.

Tim Brown, former executive council member, once told me the biggest sham in the NFL was when teams say players were cut for cap reasons. No team, Brown maintained, ever lost a player they truly wanted to keep especially if the player was open to staying.

The cap becomes a convenient excuse to cut a player whose salary is deemed to be out of line.

A case in point was running back Thomas Jones, who was the heart and soul of the Jets running game in 2009 and a respected player by coaches and teammates alike. He was due to make $6 million in salary and had a large option bonus. It was an uncapped year. The Jets could simply have dug deep and paid the money. Instead, they cut Jones because it was more than they wanted to pay.

Teams do this all the time with a cap in place, then claim it as a “salary cap casualty” when addressing it with the media.

The Raiders, to their credit, never played that game.

It made sense, because they routinely entered the free agent market by playing the salary cap the way people refinance their homes. They simply extended contracts to their top players, cut their salaries to the minimum and spread bonus money out over the life of the deal to lessen the cap hit.

Brown did it almost every season. There’s a certain amount of dead money created, but it isn’t difficult to keep playing the cap game and pushing debt into the next season without ever really being accountable or losing a chance to sign someone.

During the seven awful seasons which preceded last year’s rise to .500, Oakland’s problem wasn’t how it managed the salary cap. They did that just fine, coming up with plenty of money to sign free agents. Their problem was in signing the wrong players.

If the Raiders aren’t active players in free agency, it won’t be because of the salary cap. It will be because after shelling out huge money to the likes of Gibril Wilson, Javon Walker and DeAngelo Hall (by trade), they chose to go in another direction and develop younger players.

It won’t stop the flood of “Raiders in trouble against the cap” stories, despite historical evidence to the contrary.


Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer