Panthers lead list of teams on the hook with new projected salary floor

Before Tuesday's owners meetings, several sources reported that there was a small group of owners opposed to terms in the owners' prospective offer to the players. Whether that was the case, or whether a few hyperactive lawyers tried to get a little clutch of opposing voices together to make things more "interesting" is uncertain, but there is a definite sense that when all 32 owners got together in Chicago to vet the particulars of the newest offer, anyone opposed for financial reasons was going to get steamrolled right out of the process. It's fast approaching the time when all owners stand to lose serious money from an abbreviated or cancelled preseason, which is one reason so many things were crossed off on that one-day meeting before the owners traveled to Boston to meet again with the players and try to finally nail down the parameters of the NFL's next collective bargaining agreement.

Estimates say that when a deal is struck, the 2011 salary cap could be anywhere from $110 to $130 million, depending on who you're reading or listening to.  For our purposes, we'll go with an even $124 million, which was the approximate cash commitment per team in 2010, when there wasn't a salary cap. Based on that number, it's very easy to see which teams would be violently opposed to a 90 percent-plus cash guarantee each year, because their cash commitments in recent years have been so far below the average. That new floor would require commitments of at least $110 million with a reasonable cap, and as you're about to see, many teams aren't even in the same zip code right now.

2011 numbers are still variable and non-indicative to a degree, because we don't know what the rookie signings will take up — we don't even know if there will be a rookie pool (though we can assume there will be). Franchise tags and other designations will have to be re-set with a new CBA, because of the high possibility that free agency will revert to a four-year concern after the six-year term in 2010. As such, these numbers are approximate and are not intended to be a 100 percent accurate barometer of what each team has spent. But in adding together six key totals for each team — base salaries, signing bonuses, option bonuses, roster bonuses, workout bonuses, and incentives likely-to-be-earned incentives, we can get a fairly clear picture of who's doing what — and who's not. Not-likely-to-be-earned incentives clauses are one of the primary 'funny-money' machinations in the NFL, and as such, we're not including them here.

So, again, keep in mind that all these numbers are approximate, but close, to a pre-CBA scenario. Thanks to Brian McIntyre of Football Outsiders and Mac's Football Blog for providing the base numbers. Here are the five lowest cash-commitment teams, in reverse order.

Carolina Panthers
2011 Cash: $57.9 million
2011 Cap: $76.8 million
Cash % of Cap: 75.4%
Pct. Of $124 million Cap: 47%

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2011 Cash: $64.4 million
2011 Cap: $64.7 million
Cash % of Cap: 99.5%
Pct. Of $124 million Cap: 52%

Cleveland Browns
2011 Cash: $65.0 million
2011 Cap: $87.8 million
Cash % of Cap: 74.0
Pct. Of $124 million Cap: 52.4% 

Indianapolis Colts
2011 Cash: $73.8 million
2011 Cap: $100.7 million
Cash % of Cap: 73.3
Pct. Of $124 million Cap: 59.5%

Buffalo Bills
2011 Cash: $75.3 million
2011 Cap: $89.5 million
Cash % of Cap: 84.1
Pct. Of $124 million Cap: 60.8%

According to the data used for this article, 22 of the NFL's 32 teams would be under 80 percent of cash obligations were there a $124 million salary cap in 2011. Now, of course, many teams will plug those holes with their own roster reclamations -- the Colts will put a high eight-figure total (estimated at over $23 million per prior league rules) into franchising Peyton Manning unless a long-term deal gets done between team and quarterback. Other franchises, like the Panthers, have a laundry list of players that they would have liked to have re-signed in previous years — under the new rules, they'd be beholden to do so.

In a larger sense, the fact that 14 teams would be under 70 percent of cash obligations in that $124 million scenario might lead you to two conclusions: There are owners using revenue sharing as a cash grab without putting adequate resources back into their player costs, and there are other owners who are very, very tired of that trend. I've said all along that the main reason the owners oppose opening the books to a line-by-line audit is not because they're afraid that the players will find out how much profit they're clearing — anyone with half a brain can deduce that NFL team ownership is a license to print American currency. The real issue is that the NFL doesn't want a script where the big-market owners like Jerry Jones (and say what you will about the Double-J; he does roll serious cash back into his team) would pull revenue sharing off the table because they're sick of paying seven-figure "bonuses" for relatives of other owners.  

If you're the ownership group of the Green Bay Packers (a league-leading $115.8 million in 2011 cash obligations), or the New York Jets (second-place with $113.5 million), or the owners of the eight other teams over the $100 million cash floor pre-CBA (the Redskins, 49ers, Falcons, Broncos, Rams, Cowboys, Lions, and Giants), how do you feel about the hoarders right now?

That's why having the mandatory high floor is so crucial for both sides in a new collective bargaining agreement, and why the health of the league would be further affected without it.

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