NFL Recovery Is Going to Be Slow and Painful
For the vast majority of fans, your team didn’t win the Super Bowl. For some fans, it is time to accept the realitythat your team is rebuilding. For others, it feels like your team is the local stretch of highway that never finishes the status of “under construction”. This year was particularly interesting, because teams like New England are faced with the reality that they may not be an immediate super bowl contender, welcome friends back to the majority of NFL fans. Most of us know only glimpses of hope followed by reality of disappointment.
Why Is It So Hard to Win consistently?
It is a byproduct of our salary cap era, where repeat playoff opportunities are scarce. In fact, of the last 6 super bowls, the team to lose the big game is only able to make the playoffs the following year at a rate of 50%! Those teams are the Seahawks (2015), Falcons (2016) and Patriots (2018), the teams to struggle include Panthers (2016), Rams (2018), and 49ers (2019). The stats mean little when your team is the Chiefs. As long as they keep their key players like Mahomes healthy, they will have a good chance to turn this split recent stat into favorable again, hopefully.
My friends, 2020 seems to be like a cold sore. It really won’t leave. As previously discussed, the historical struggles with revenue in a pandemic affected season has diminished the NFL salary cap by more than 10% of the expected 2021 rate! What does that mean for teams? Look at the NFL like our own society, there are usually a few teams doing really well, there are usually a few teams in really bad shape, then there are the majority who are just getting by. Much like personal finances, imagine your own income shrinking by 10% unexpectedly. What is worse, all of your expenses have been contracted out up to 5 years! Teams in this modern era of football planned to have up to $210M for 2021. Their new reality, $180M.
Reminder, Running an NFL Team Is a Business.
In a salary capped sport, teams must constantly evaluate a cost/benefit equation on players. The same players whose egos demand inflated and unrealistic contracts for headlines will eventually fall victim to the impossible salary cap burden they will create. Perhaps some elite athletes have sufficient swagger to believe they will be worth every cent of the $100M + contract they signed several years ago. Many have to realize that at the end of the day, their 6-year contract is likely a 3 or 4 year opportunity with the best case scenario being a restructure. In a year like this, the worst case scenario will be looking at free agency.
A Rare Few Will Get Paid. Most Will See Reductions.
In every year, there are those top 5 or 10 free-agents who will need the help of their friends carrying that salary to the bank. These players will sign a ridiculous contract designed to pump up their ego, with improbable bonus gates, and impossible numbers for the final years of that agreement. Other than that, career players will find themselves victims to the cap, looking elsewhere for opportunities. If there was a year to avoid entering the agent career, this could be it. Imagine your first call on Monday needs to be to explain to a regular pro-bowl talent, future hall-of-fame caliber player, that they are no longer worth their peak value, in fact worse yet, they can expect to be paid subpar levels because teams don’t have the salary cap space to afford their actual value. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not quite to the point of go-fund-me for these agents, but their super-cars may have to be downgraded to a luxury cars that would still make the average person more envious than jealous.
Historically in times of panic, if you keep your calm, you are typically rewarded in the long-term. Those who could afford to buy when most investors were selling, have done well. Whether that is the stock bubble bursts, historical land value collapses, or inflationary periods. Your favorite team may be no different. The reality is that fans tend to love their favorite players out of nostalgia. We remember the Darryl Green that ran at the speed of light, bad example that man flew in his forties. We remember our favorite players for their peak performance, yet if we blind the player names, their stats suddenly become more average. Imagine a defensive end, 52 tackles, 36 solo, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery and 1 interception. By all stats mentioned that is slightly above average for an end. Yet in 2020, JJ Watt owned those numbers, on a struggling Houston team that kept him on the field more than he deserved. The reality is that JJ Watt is no longer the 20 sack beast he once was, he has had his share of critical injuries that have slowed his play. Both JJ and Houston have agreed to his release into free agency. The reality is simple, in this market, no team could accept JJ’s salary cap hit for his current production level. He will find a home where he can be the veteran player/coach to help develop younger players, but he will not demand the nearly $18M he was to be paid in Houston.
Just like most of us, the NFL is going through strange times, and resetting their budgets. Before condemning your team for their actions in this difficult year, look at the move objectively. Look at the recent years of performance, not just your memories and assumed production. There are times when a team has to let a player test the market, so that the gaps in the negotiation can be reduced with reality. Your team may have to lose a few of these higher cost contracts to make room for some new value players.