Greed vs The Greater Good

Le’Veon Bell has officially refused to sign his Franchise Tender, rendering him unable to play football until 2019 and losing out on $14.5m. Bell is holding out for a bumper contract, the likes of which a running back has never seen. Elite quarterback money. There is really only one question though; is he worth it? James Conner would probably suggest not.

Since 1994, the NFL has operated under a salary cap environment. So, why do players continue to try and carve out a large percentage of this finite number for themselves? At what point does a player demanding ever increasing amounts of money become detrimental to their team? You can argue that professional sport is a short career, where players need to earn their money big and fast, but the more one piece takes from the pie, the less there is to go around. This creates two problems, limiting cap space to bring in other key or supporting players, and the possibility of raising dissent amongst players who are effectively doing the ‘same job’ but being paid multiple times less.

The first problem with a player demanding a high wage for their position, is that individual brilliance or skill is not enough within football, especially on offence**. Each position is incredibly dependant on at least one other in order to function properly. A quarterback needs a competent offensive line and receivers, a running back needs the offensive line, and this continues for every position. This is evident when watching Derek Carr, Josh Rosen, or any of the Bills’ running backs. Whilst these players are not necessarily on detrimental deals to their organisations, they demonstrate the point that no matter the talent level, without support you are nothing on offense. So, we should look at a player who is on, what I would consider, a detrimental deal.

I hope you’re sitting comfortably, because I will now attempt to explain how Aaron Rodgers has potentially made the Packers weaker in 2018. To do this, we need to quantify Rodgers’ impact by looking at both his contract and the salary cap itself. For the purposes of ease and clarity, all contract figures in this article will refer to a player’s average salary cap allocation, according to Over The Cap or Sportrac, and not each individual yearly hit.

After a relative plateau between 2009-2013, the salary cap has increased by around $10 million per year; from $123m to $177.2m, roughly a 44% increase. Conveniently, the player on the highest contract allocation in 2018 was also the highest in 2013. That player is Aaron Rodgers. The allocation Rodgers agreed in 2013 was worth $22m. Compare this to the deal he signed before the 2018 season; a 4 year extension, averaging a record breaking $33.5m per year. This works out as a 52% allocation increase, well above the proportional cap change of 44%. By negotiating more than his proportional wage increase would have been ($31.7m), Rodgers is weakening the Packers by reducing their available cap space.

If we look elsewhere in the league, it may be no coincidence that Matt Ryan, who also signed his previous deal in 2013, agreed a 44% increase when extending his contract with the Falcons this year. Whilst still being extremely large, Ryan’s allocation increase, from $20.75m to $30m, gives the Falcons no loss in proportional cap space; whereas Rodgers has effectively cost the Packers an extra $1.8m in cap space per year. This might sound like small potatoes in the grand scheme of the salary cap but when you consider that the Packers highest allocation for a RB is worth a mere $770k per year, it starts to feel more significant.

Rodgers’ current contract averages out at just under 19% of the Packers total cap spend and when you combine his allocation with those of Devante Adams ($14.5m) and Randall Cobb ($10m), it adds up to a staggering 33% of the total cap allocated to just three players. It is clear that there are ongoing issues with the offense at Green Bay which are not talent related but these figures play a huge part in the team’s lack of success since 2010/11. For 2018, Green Bay’s Offense is allocated nearly $94.8m, compared to the defense, which sits at around £61m. This is where their problem lies. And the difference between these two values? Well, it’s approximately Aaron Rodgers contract.

The second part of the problem is how these contracts can affect teammates. Obviously, if you play like Aaron Rodgers every week then the effects are significantly reduced. However, if you fail to perform, or in some cases turn up at all, dissent begins to grow.

At the start of the 2018 season we saw evidence of this, with Le’Veon Bell’s holdout causing issues within the Pittsburgh Steelers. Left guard Ramon Foster was quoted as saying “He’s making 7 times what I make, twice as much as Al (Villanueva) is making, and we’re the guys who do it for him”. This kind of friction can easily spread into training, the locker room, and ultimately affect performance on the field. Richard Borghesi concluded a 2008 study of the NFL salary cap by stating “teams that compensate players the most inequitably are those most likely to perform the worst”. Within the same conclusion he suggests that this is probably due to disharmony caused by wage inequality.

Now, this might be my own ideology slipping into an objective piece, but I cannot understand the mentality of agreeing a record deal when you know that, as a direct result, the supporting cast around you may not be up to scratch. Relying on a handful of superstars to carry a franchise is basically asking 45-50 other people to compromise on their wage. I’m not saying pay them all the same, but if those few players would be willing to reduce their allocation, even slightly, it might work out better for all.

Simply put, the desire to be the highest paid player in any given position may well be costing franchises their shot at the Bowl. Over to you, Aaron…

**whilst the defense also need to operate as a unit to be successful, it is significantly easier for a single player to make a much greater impact on any individual play. For example, one rip/swim/spin move can easily lead to a sack and/or loss of yards without the assistance of a teammate. Please don’t hate me offense.



Richard Boughesi – Allocation of scarce resources: Insight from the NFL salary cap

Max Winsberg – Player Compensation and Team Performance: Salary Cap Allocation Strategies across the NFL

Over The Cap



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