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Thursday, March 11, 2010

No Cap on Complexities in This Year’s NFL

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Now that it's gone, let's be candid: The NFL salary cap baffled all us fans.

A player's salary and his "cap number" never seemed to be the same; trades became rare because they required intricate calculations of "cap impact"; and long-term contracts needed year-by-year reworking to preserve "cap space." But not this year. NFL owners—perhaps planning a lockout in 2011—invoked a clause in the labor contract to abolish the salary cap for 2010. But no cap doesn't mean no byzantine rules.

Frank: I'm relying on you, pal, to explain the non-cap terrain. Since you have a rooting interest, you must have it down pat.

Artie: Think again. Math was never my strength, and I feel like I just walked into a class in advanced calculus.

Frank: Actually, I always assumed that nobody understood the cap system except the Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn. In fact, I think Bob invented the system for the league.

Artie: Some system. How could Dan Snyder spend like a drunken sailor every year to restock the Redskins—with great futility—if there was a cap?

Frank: This year's system alters a lot of rules about free agents—who's unrestricted and restricted; the "tender" contracts that teams offer to keep them; draft-choice compensation for teams that lose them.

Artie: I found someone who can explain it all. Mike Florio wrote a great column on nbcsports.com that does the job; just do a Google search for "Mike Florio 20 questions NFL."

Frank: One odd aspect of the non-cap is that it removes not only the league's spending ceiling, but also the spending minimum that was part of the system.

Artie: Some teams might dump big contracts they no longer want, making them the Pittsburgh Pirates of the NFL.

Frank: And they'll do this because...

Artie: They want to make more profit this year—which the players' union would portray as stockpiling for a lockout in 2011.

Frank: Another work stoppage in a sports league that's swimming in money? Can NFL owners and players be so stupid that...

Artie: Hold your horses right there. You betcha, they can be that stupid.

Frank: And what would a lockout be over?

Artie: Under the labor deal ending next March, players get 59.6% of total revenue. The owners want to reduce that.

Frank: Billionaires fighting millionaires over how many nickels they can keep from each other. Gee, I wonder who'll have to provide more revenue regardless of the outcome.

Artie: Back to this year, and the question Wisconsin cares about: How does the non-cap affect the Packers?

Frank: There are certain restrictions on what the final eight teams in the recent playoffs can do in signing unrestricted free agents. Is it possible the Packers helped themselves by losing to Arizona in the first round?

Artie: Nope, because the general manager, Ted Thompson, never goes after big-name free agents anyway. But the non-cap might make it easier for Thompson to swing some trades.

Frank: What about holding onto the free agents the Pack already has?

Artie: Thompson took the biggest step in re-signing the unrestricted Chad Clifton at left tackle. He was looking for a three-year deal at, like, $7 million per year, which would be crazy if all the money were guaranteed. Clifton has been a tough, reliable guy for years, but he'll be 34 in June; how long can he hold up? Thompson gave him three years at $20 million, but only $7.5 million is guaranteed. So Ted covered a key position and will hope to draft his left tackle of the future.

Frank: Clifton will have his hands full against the Bears now that they've signed Julius Peppers, the top free-agent pass rusher.

Artie: Don't forget Detroit signing Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Jared Allen in Minnesota. Clifton better hold up this year!

Frank: The Packers lost a big name when Aaron Kampman signed with Jacksonville. He must have been looking all along to get back to a 4-3 system, where he thrived as a pass rusher. He supposedly was improving as a "stand-up" guy in last season's 3-4 before he hurt his knee, but I figured the Packers wouldn't be devastated if he left.

Artie: His reported deal of four years and $26 million, with $11 million guaranteed, was way too high for the Pack. He was still a question mark in terms of health and his worth in the 3-4.

Frank: He was a good soldier, kept quiet about the change in positions, but it was clear he wasn't happy about it.

Artie: Good luck and thanks, Aaron. But the Packers' top priorities on defense were nose tackle Ryan Pickett, whom they locked up with the "franchise" label, and safety Nick Collins, whom they "tendered" with the highest draft-pick price tag—first- and third-rounders.

Frank: And the rest of the restricted free agents they tendered?

Artie: There are guys I'd hate to lose, like defensive tackle Johnny Jolly, offensive lineman Jason Spitz, safety Atari Bigby, cornerback Tramon Williams and jack-of-all-trades Spencer Havner. But if someone signed one of ’em and the Pack got a second-rounder out of it, that wouldn't be too bad.

Frank: So it looks like the Packers won't lose anyone they really want to keep.

Artie: And the draft is supposed to be really deep in the positions the Pack is looking for—offensive linemen and cornerbacks.

Frank: So things are hunky-dory?

Artie: Well, they're punterless after declining to tender Jeremy Kapinos. Then again, the way he played they’ve been punterless for the last 17 games, ain’a?

The Madness Begins

Frank: The Marquette and UW hoopsters headed into their conference tournaments in different ways. MU stumbled at home against Notre Dame while the Badgers stifled Illinois—the team they'll play in the tourney Friday.

Artie: It seems unfair that the Badgers—13-5 in the conference, one game behind Ohio State, Purdue and Michigan—still start with the 10-8 Illini instead of a bottom-feeder. Illinois plays almost a European style, lots of big guys who jump-shoot, and if they're hot they can be trouble.

Frank: If the Badgers beat Illinois, presumably they'll face Ohio State in the semifinals.

Artie: The Buckeyes are a great team because of Evan Turner, who could be the No. 1 overall NBA pick, but Michigan State is really deep. Might be better to face OSU first.

Frank: As for MU, this time the opponent's three-pointer dropped at the crucial moment as the Irish forced overtime.

Artie: It wasn't just that. In the last few minutes MU looked a little unhinged, every man for himself.

Frank: They open the Big East tourney against either St. John's or Connecticut. The crowd will be tough; UConn gets tons of fans to Madison Square Garden, and St. John's is a subway ride away.

Artie: After that, MU would need three more wins in three nights, presumably with teams like Villanova and Syracuse involved. Not a good script for a team that isn't deep and relies heavily on treys.

Setting Up an Encore?

Frank: Last week produced more evidence of our superb talents of prediction!

Artie: Um, when was that?

Frank: Remember that great Brewer game we saw against the Giants last September—triple play, extra innings, and Prince Fielder's "ka-boom" routine after his walk-off homer?

Artie: Hmmm... Some of that rings a bell.

Frank: Some Giants were miffed when the Brewers staged a mass collapse as Prince leaped onto the plate. We didn't fault either side but we said, "It'll be interesting to see if the Giants give Prince a friendly plunking in an exhibition game next spring."

Artie: Which they darn sure did!

Frank: Barry Zito's first pitch—a lollipop, it should be noted—went into Prince's midsection. He had to be expecting it, and he didn't get mad.

Artie: But I don't think the dust has settled on this.

Frank: The Giants' only trip here this year—barring the playoffs—is July 5-8.

Artie: If Prince hits a walk-off in one of those games, he might wave the crowd onto the field to help celebrate.

Frank: And if something happens here, the Giants may respond when the Brewers hit the coast Sept. 17-19.

Artie: This is what makes baseball great. Mark your calendars!

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