No NFL Salary Cap? No Problem
In a couple of weeks, when NFL players and owners fail to extend their collective bargaining agreement, the salary cap will vanish for the upcoming season. Not only that, players union chief DeMaurice Smith says that if the salary cap goes, his clients never will agree to bring it back, which isn't good news.
It's great news.
At worst, it is indifferent news, but only if you realize the myth that The All Mighty Salary Cap reigns as the league's messiah.
Sorry to reveal the truth to the naive, but there is no Easter Bunny, somebody really was shooting from the grassy knoll, and the salary cap hadn't much to do, for instance, with the normally hapless teams from New Orleans and Tampa Bay capturing Super Bowls during this century.
The Saints and the Buccaneers were just better than everybody else. That is, better, as in their combination of players, chemistry and strategy. And what was behind that combination? Well, it wasn't the salary cap. It was those ownerships hiring the right executives to run their franchises. After that, it was those executives acquiring knowledgeable football people in management.
Then it was those knowledgeable football people finding the perfect head coach for the situation. Then it was the whole collection of those folks adding and deleting players and assistant coaches along the way to fit their vision.
The salary cap? Please.
The salary cap is among the most overrated things in the history of sports, ranking somewhere in importance between the Phillie Phanatic and the invention of that black stuff players put underneath their eyes.
What the salary cap does is help owners add millions to their millions since it puts a ceiling on how much they can devote to payroll each season. What the salary cap doesn't do is what the naïve think it does: keep the rich teams from winning a bunch of championships and allows the poor teams to do so on occasion.
Simply put, during any given year, the teams with the most efficient football operations win more often than their counterparts -- money or not.
We've already talked about these Saints and those 2002 Buccaneers doing splendidly despite ranking among the NFL's low-revenue franchises. We also can go the other way, with the high-revenue New England Patriots collecting three Super Bowl rings in four years through 2005. It wasn't Bob Kraft's bank account that spurred those world championships. It was Bill Belichick, a future Hall of Fame coach, who had the sense to draft Tom Brady in the sixth round.
This isn't deep stuff, by the way. Let's study the NFL from the start of its modern era at the end of World War II to just before the first Super Bowl in 1967. There was no salary cap back then, and the Cleveland Browns dominated at the beginning of that stretch. Not because they spent more than others, but because Paul Brown had the foresight to integrate his teams with black players. He also invented everything from calling plays from the sidelines to using intelligence tests to select players.
The Green Bay Packers were a power later in that stretch, but only because they hired some guy named Vince Lombardi.
Next, you had the NFL from the Super Bowl era in 1967 through 1992 before the salary cap. The Pittsburgh Steelers were a dynasty within that period, and they were a low-revenue franchise. It's just that they had Chuck Noll -- their Brown, Lombardi and Belichick -- drafting nine future Hall of Famers.
The Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders won three championships back then since a younger and sharper Al Davis was able to turn rejects from other teams into his guys. You had the Dallas Cowboys of Tex Schramm, Gil Brandt and Tom Landry riding their famous system to success more than Clint Murchison's mighty wallet. Hall of Fame coach Don Shula kept finding complementary pieces for his Miami Dolphins who eventually went undefeated. The San Francisco 49ers had Bill Walsh, the inventor of the West Coast offense, who started his dynasty with third-rounder Joe Montana.
Even after the salary cap, you had the second coming of Dallas dominance, and it wasn't because of Jerry Jones' checkbook. It was because Jones hired Jimmy Johnson, who had the foresight to make that Herschel Walker trade. Then those Cowboys acquired their triplets of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith.
The Washington Redskins and the New York Giants also had their streaks of goodness with stellar coaches Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells, respectively, making clever decisions on and off the field. Plus, Hall of Famer Marv Levy never won a Super Bowl with the Buffalo Bills, but he got them there four times, with much help from a Bills organization that kept finding a slew of talent.
So you should yawn whenever you hear backers of the NFL's salary cap claim that, without the silly thing, the NFL will resemble baseball -- you know, with deep-pocket owners such Daniel Snyder of the Washington Redskins and Jones becoming counterparts of baseball's New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
Let's see. With all that Jerry Jones money at their disposal -- even beyond the NFL's socialistic practice called revenue sharing -- the Cowboys last won a world championships ... when?
Fourteen years ago.
As for the Redskins, Snyder hasn't been shy about signing big-money free agents and head coaches with marquee names. The result? Zero Super Bowls. They haven't even reached the NFC championship. They've rarely reached the playoffs.
This line of thinking also applies to baseball, where there never has been a salary cap, but where the wrongheaded talk continues about the Steinbrenners always having the ability to buy world championships. The thing is, prior to the Yankees winning last year's World Series, they hadn't done so in nearly a decade.
And speaking of decades, the Yankees were shut out of world championships during the entire 1980s. That was despite George Steinbrenner throwing large bills at free agents with regularity. Then he began hiring talented baseball people (Brian Cashman and Joe Torre come to mind), and he got out of the way. He watched those baseball people choose the right players for a farm system that they developed out of nowhere (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, among others), and the Yankees rolled during the late 1990s toward four world championships.
Oh, and between 2004 and 2008, when the Yankees didn't go to the World Series, you had appearances by the Chicago White Sox, the Detroit Tigers, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Colorado Rockies and the Houston Astros, all lower-revenue teams, but all owners of competent baseball folks at the time.
Get the picture here?
If not, you probably believe in flying reindeer, too.