This is the second of a two-part series looking into the front offices practices of the Packers. Yesterday we looked how some creative book-keeping techniques spearheaded by Russ Ball helped the Packers acquire and keep a lot of talent on their roster last season. Today we look at some troubles that may lie ahead.
As we saw yesterday, the Packers had one of the highest payrolls in the entire NFL last season, which I think would surprise a lot of fans knowing the Packers don't have a single deep-pocketed owner to pay those salaries.
The investment turned into a Super Bowl victory for Green Bay, however. Probably 99% of fans, season-ticket holders, shareholders and anyone else associated with the Packers don't mind spending so much money if the end result is the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Some concerns lie ahead, though.
There's a veritable ton of issues to be ironed out with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, whenever it happens. But when it does, there's a decent chance it will include a salary cap, which was absent as part of the old CBA's clause regarding the "Final League Year" in 2010.
The owners want a salary cap to put a ceiling on the amount of money they'll be required to pay player salaries. The players, meanwhile, don't necessarily want a cap, but they do want the salary floor that comes with it.
Consider right now that teams like Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Carolina currently have payrolls that are far below what would have been the salary floor had it been in place last season.
"Carolina right now has less than $60 million in cash committed to next year," said Brian McIntyre of Football Outsiders. "That's ridiculous. The salary cap floor in 2009 was $107 million. Two years later the Panthers have a payroll of less than $60."
At the other end of the spectrum sit the Packers, whose high payroll allowed them to be competitive at the highest level of the sport. But it has come with a price.
If and when the salary cap returns, Ted Thompson will again be turning the Russ Ball and the rest of the finance department to figure out ways to get them under the ceiling.
"They still have some issues going forward," said McIntyre. "According to my figures, their cap number in 2011 is just under $126 million."
What the salary cap will be when a new CBA is hammered out is still speculation, but there are some figures that can give us a ballpark estimate.
"The players were looking for about $141 million," said McIntyre of the last round of negotiations back in April before any court-ordered mediation occurred. "One of the owners' proposals was about $114, $115."
When forced to guess what it will be, McInytre predicted that the salary cap would skew in the players' favor, anywhere from $130 to $140 million. But that's far from being set in stone.
Had the players agreed to the owners' proposal of $115 million, the Packers would already be about $11 million over the salary cap requiring some serious pay cuts to get under the ceiling.
On the other hand, if it the cap ends up being somewhere near the players' proposal of $140, the Packers will have a little more wiggle room. But even then, they're still not in the clear.
"If... there was a $140 million cap in 2011, the Packers would have to scramble," said McIntyre. "And that doesn't include guys, the restricted free agents like Mason Crosby, John Kuhn, [Atari] Bigby and [Daryn] Colledge."
The number of years of service required for unrestricted free agency, whether it's four or six, or even a different figure altogether, is another monkey wrench in the CBA equation.
Just in case it takes six years or more to become an unrestricted free agent, the Packers reportedly offered restricted free agent tenders to players like Crosby, Kuhn, Colledge, James Jones and Brandon Jackson. In essence, the Packers are committed to paying those salaries of an amount based upon the tenders they offered.
Also not taken into account is the amount of money the Packers will pay their incoming rookies, both drafted and undrafted.
Taken together, it's becoming increasingly apparent that the Packers will need to cut back on player salaries someway, somehow even if the cap does end up being near the high end of $140 million.
The Packers already took the first step in this direction shortly after the Super Bowl by cutting tight end Donald Lee and safety Derrick Martin. Another possible casualty at some future point in time could be defensive lineman Justin Harrell. Veteran tackle Mark Tauscher is another option, but retirement could be in the cards too.
Even more unforeseen cuts are possible as well as getting players to restructure their current deals. At this point, almost no money-saving techniques can be ruled out.
When armed with all this information, it also appears the Packers simply don't have the money necessary to sign an unrestricted free agent like defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins. And if players like Jones and Jackson become free agents and command high salaries on the open market, there's a decent chance the Packers won't be able to afford them either. The decision won't be whether the Packers want them or not; it will simply be because they can't afford to be among the highest bidders.
Again, there's a lot of unknowns with the labor negotiations being carried out by the NFL. It's not out of the realm that both sides agree to play one more year with the 2010 rules in place (including no salary cap) as a temporary measure.
But when they finally do agree to a new CBA, whether it's soon or years down the road, the salary cap is likely to return. And the Packers going to have to take some cost-saving measures as a result.
Brian Carriveau is the editor of the Maple Street Press Packers Annual. To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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