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Ask PFW: The ABCs of the CBA

The current labor unrest in the NFL has many Patriots fans wondering what the landscape of the league would look like without a salary cap.

Can you comment on how the Patriots organization stacks up against a) the AFC East competition and b) the rest of the league if hypothetically speaking the league lost its salary cap? Is New England a "have" team or a "have-not" team? Would you see them being one of the top spenders? In my view I'd like to keep the salary cap for competitive reasons and because I think NE has been able to use it and manage it very well.
J Hus

That's a very interesting question to lead things off. The Patriots most definitely are one of the "have" teams in NFL circles. The Patriots have done a great job of generating revenues through innovative ideas and just plain hard work. That has left them as one of the richer teams in the league. If the league was forced to play in an uncapped year, the Patriots would definitely be able to spend with just about anyone. Now, the question is, would they? Hopefully we'll never get to find out because the salary cap is an important aspect of the league's competitive balance and without it I fear an eventual lapse into the baseball landscape where only the rich truly have a chance to compete every year. Like I said, I believe the Patriots would be among the teams able to do so, but that doesn't mean I think it would be good for the game. I agree with your view of the team's ability to manage and work within the parameters of the cap being one of the key aspects to New England's success. But as long as Bill Belichick is coaching and the Kraft family continues to operate such a successful business, I believe the Patriots will be successful under any arrangement.
Paul Perillo

I was wondering your thoughts on the lack of a CBA and the effect of a potential "capless" NFL. Personally, I see it hurting the Pats a lot in that they are the experts of finding that player with a motor that won't stop and plays for the team for a reasonable price. They are also very good at drafting new players and plugging them into the system. Without the cap, a lot of free agents and salary negotiations go out the door and I see Belichick and Pioli losing their edge. I honestly do not believe Bob Kraft will spend a fortune on a team salary to win as he has already created the dynasty here in New England.

Similar theme to the first question only with more of a personal slant from Frank. I don't see your points as being mutually exclusive. As I stated above, I agree that the Patriots have done a great job of putting together their roster and finding players for affordable prices. But why does this mean they won't be able to do so without a salary cap? That to me operates under the premise that players will simply go to the highest bidder. Players are free to do that now but seem to occasionally sign for less to play in New England. Not all of them do, but more than one free agent has come to the Patriots for less money (Colvin being a glaring example of this in 2003). So yes, players may simply go to the highest bidder rather than search for the spot that best fits them individually. But the Patriots will definitely be in a position to be among the highest bidders if they want to. Much like the Red Sox, the Patriots will be one of the heavy hitters and would never be able to use the "we just couldn't afford him" excuse in the case of an uncapped year. I hope it never comes to that because the competitive balance of the league, I believe, will be disrupted. But I can't see a scenario where Robert Kraft accepts anything less than the best effort possible to win, and the scenario you're painting seems to indicate that he would accept losing rather than spending whatever it takes. I don't see that happening.
Paul Perillo

Maybe you have answered this question before and I missed it, but here goes. If the league and the players assoc. cannot come to an agreement for the 2007 season and there is an uncapped revenue. What would stop the teams who can spend tons of money from buying a team. Pay outrageous amounts on one-year contracts for all the players they want. It seems like some owners would be more than willing to do this (Dan Snyder comes to mind).John Wohlford

John is sticking with our sky is falling theme, and to answer your question in a nutshell, nothing. A guy like Snyder could offer outrageous one-year contracts and try to buy a championship if he wants. The rules prevent a player's salary from increasing more than 30 percent from one year to the next, but there's nothing that would prevent your scenario from unfolding. However, I don't think many players would like to sign one-year deals – even for large dollars – for fear of injury. The players have little security as it is. Signing one-year contracts takes away what little they have. At least if a guy signed a three-year deal and was injured in the first year the team would still be responsible for paying the salary. It would be one and done in your scenario.
Paul Perillo

I think it is likely that the Patriots could trade up to the 15 or 17 slot in the draft. I think this is a good move for the Patriots since 15 would put them ahead of Miami, and 17 would put them ahead of Dallas -- two teams likely to target some of the same players as New England (assuming Miami has solved their QB issue prior to the draft). New England, with the extra 3rd and 4th round picks, definitely has the ammunition to make the jump up to the 15-17 range in the first round if they choose. Minnesota (17) and Atlanta (15) obviously have a say in the matter, but both seem to be in situations that lend themselves to taking more picks if they are offered. Most mock drafts don't address potential trades because they are just too hard to predict. But since you're writing here has a Patriots slant to it, who do you see available in the 15-17 range that might induce the Patriots to take the leap?
Mike Mammay

The Patriots love flexibility and the multiple mid-round picks definitely gives Belichick the ability to move around. If there's a player he has his eye on available in the 15-17 range, then moving up 5 or 6 spots is clearly a possibility. I could see a player like Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter generating that kind of interest. Andy and Tom just got back from the combine and they liked Carpenter and believe he's has the ability to play inside and outside in a 3-4. They'd probably need to get in front of Dallas at 18 to get him. Laurence Maroney, the running back from Minnesota, also could be a target. The Vikings might like to get their hands on him so the Patriots might try to jump in front in front of them if he's there. I'd personally like to see Carpenter because I feel linebacker is a bigger need, but I love trades and wouldn't be opposed to the ones you're proposing.
Paul Perillo

I just can't see speedy Maroney fitting into the Patriots rough offense. I don't follow college football too much and I may be mistaken but from what I read Maroney is a fast little running back. I see him basically being a third down running back, not a running back that can carry the load and team. If we were to draft a running back I think we would need to draft a hard nose running back who will break tackles like Corey Dillon and Antowain Smith. What's your view on this?
Kareem Asha

In no way do I proclaim to be Mel Kiper Casale when it comes to breaking down the draft, but I disagree with your assessment of Maroney. He was a workhorse at the college level and he checked in at 217 pounds at the combine. That's big enough to be an every down back in the NFL. Whether the Patriots need him, or want him, is another story. But I believe Maroney will be a nice pick for someone in the middle to end of the first round. Like I just said, Minnesota won't let him get past 17 if he's available.
Paul Perillo

Now, I know no one is going to replace Brady for a long time, unless he unfortunately gets hurt like the oh so great Bledsoe, but I have a question about our young QB. I liked the way he played during the season and preseason (considering he hadn't actually started a real game since high school) and I was wondering ... If he develops into a real quality QB, what is the chance of him staying in New England and remaining our backup QB and eventually succeeding Brady when he retires or whatever else? Plus, do you think Cassel is a player worth watching, or is he going to just become an average QB?
David Engelhard

I'll answer your question even though you tried to slip that shot in at Bledsoe, David. I believe Cassel is an intriguing prospect. His lack of experience is a major negative, but he clearly has the tools to be a successful NFL quarterback. He has a strong arm and from what I've been told he processes information well. He just needs to play and continue his development. Now, I don't see him getting that opportunity here unless Brady is injured. He signed a four-year deal as a rookie last year and once that deal is up, he'll likely be looking for a place to get some playing time. Unless something happens to Brady, I don't see him factoring into New England's long-range plans. But I do know that the coaches like Cassel and are anxious to see more.
Paul Perillo

Guys, there is a bunch of talk about the "needs" of the team with the up-coming draft and FA possibilities ... can you touch on the O-line status and what possibilities might happen there? As for the folks talking about the Steelers Super Bowl win, I live in central PA and putting up with more than you can imagine with these coal crackers. My statement to them all, "enjoy the hell out of your year because we'll be back, better than ever."
Steve Briggs

The offensive line is definitely an underrated area of concern … at least to me. Matt Light and Dan Koppen were both lost to serious injuries last year. Light had further complications late in the year when it looked like he was nearing a return. So to just ignore those factors and assume both will be 100 percent going forward may be a bit of wishful thinking. With that in mind, plus the fact that Stephen Neal and Tom Ashworth are unrestricted free agents, maybe the line is an area that needs to be addressed. I'd like to see at least one draft pick, probably two, somewhere in the middle to late rounds, plus a veteran free agent brought in – especially if the Pats lose Neal and Ashworth. As for which individuals that might be possibilities, Notre Dame's Dan Stevenson and BC's Pat Ross could be late-round candidates. And I'd keep an eye on the Jets Jason Fabini in free agency if he's healthy.
Paul Perillo

Now that the New York Jets have released Jay Fiedler, what do think the chances are that he is in a New England uniform next season? Coach Belichick can't pass up the chance to get a Dartmouth graduate. I can almost guarantee we will see number No. 9 on the sidelines of Foxboro this season. Oh yeah, for everyone that is knocking the ask PFW writers, GET A LIFE! If you don't like what they have to say, don't go on the web site! Here is a suggestion, go on and type in your name, see how many web sites come up with your name in them, that should keep you idiots busy for a couple of hours!
Steve Johnson

Belichick has spoken very highly of Fiedler in the past so I don't think it's a stretch to see him as Brady's backup next season. The problem is he's coming off a serious shoulder injury and might not be able to throw during the offseason when it would be beneficial having him here working out and learning the offense. If he checks out physically, then I love the idea of bringing him here to back up Brady and continue the development of Cassel. And don't be too hard on the emailers, they're a sensitive lot.
Paul Perillo

I have a rare game worn No. 86 Troy Brown jersey from his early years in New England. Can you tell me how many seasons Troy Brown wore 86 for?
Doug Morrison

Troy Brown wore No. 86 during his rookie season in 1993 and as far as we can tell that's the only time he wore that number during his Patriots career. The following year he was listed in the Patriots official media guide as No. 80 and has worn that number ever since, although he was released before the 1994 season before returning later that year. Using my best Cliff Klaven voice, little known fact there, Dougie, but Troy Brown actually wore No. 6 during the 1993 preseason. Now how's that for useless information, a Cheers reference and Troy Brown all rolled into one.
Paul Perillo

I don't know about you but I think that the Pats should go after Julian Peterson. He is one of the best linebackers in football and he would be perfect with Colvin in the future. I also think that the Pats should go after Eric Moulds if he becomes available because he has torched the Pats a couple of times even when they had Ty Law. Forget about Law, if he wants to be here he will contact the team maybe. Samuel and Hobbs are good enough. They were lacking safety help last season so they were kind of underrated. If Harrison comes back the Pats will probably be stronger than ever!Antonio Knox

I like Peterson too but I question his health. He's missed most of the last two seasons with serious injuries (back-to-back torn Achilles). If healthy he'd be a perfect fit in the Patriots scheme. He played in a similar system at Michigan State in 1998-99 under Nick Saban, the current Dolphins coach. I'd be interested in taking a chance on him for short money, but I'd be leery of committing big bucks to a guy that's missed the majority of the last two seasons with serious injuries. As for Moulds, I think he'd make sense if available. Based on what I've read the Bills are trying to get him to take a pay cut and he's balking. That could lead to his release, but then he'd probably still be looking for big money and I'm not sure the Patriots would give it to him. He'd be a great complement to Deion Branch, especially if Givens and Brown are lost to free agency. I disagree with you about Ty Law … I'd take him back in a hurry if he's interested, especially since Rodney Harrison won't likely be back at the start of the season. They need some help in the secondary and Law would provide it.
Paul Perillo

Hello PFW answer guys, my question deals with patterns and trends. I have noticed (along with a bunch of other people) the Patriots talent often comes from within the organization (development) or the NFL draft. As far as I can think back, the Patriots make a monster deal with a free agent every three years. Rodney Harrison in 2003, can't think of who it was in 2000, and I wonder who it is going to be this year. Nate Clements, Laveranues Coles anyone?
Glen Maganzini

I'm not sure I agree your pattern here, Glen. The Patriots have always used free agency as a major tool for their player procurement. In 2001, they signed move than 20 free agents and many of those players played major roles in the team's success that year (Mike Vrabel, Bryan Cox, Roman Phifer, Antowain Smith and so on). The biggest free agent signing they've had under Belichick in terms of money was probably Rosevelt Colvin in 2003. But they haven't waited three years between free agent signings in the past. They sign players every year and this will be no exception. Maybe Eric Moulds if he's available?
Paul Perillo

I always seem to read in PFW that the Patriots may add another player so long as they can get one at relatively low cost and that the Patriots cannot afford to go after the higher salary free agents that are available. Yet, the Patriots are reportedly at or close to the salary cap, so some players on the team must be getting salaries that are at least as high as the other teams. Can you describe where the Patriots put their salary dollars by comparison with the other teams in their division? For example, do the Patriots put all their money into just a few players, or much more into defense, compared to other teams?
Bob Lyman

The Patriots philosophy regarding the salary cap is to spread the money as evenly throughout the roster as possible. Obviously, players like Brady and Seymour and other veterans make more than the young guys, but there is a large "middle class" of players making around a million or so that other teams don't always have. For instance, the Patriots have several veterans making around the minimum that play just special teams like Larry Izzo and Don Davis. But many teams have rookies playing special teams and the minimum for those players is much less than the minimum for players like Izzo and Davis who have been around the league for 10-plus years. That's why the Patriots spend to the cap but don't always have the money to sign some high-priced free agent looking for a $15 million signing bonus. At one time (I'm not sure if this is still accurate) the Patriots had more players on their roster making at least $1 million than any other team in the league. That philosophy has been a large part of their success.
Paul Perillo

You think the Patriots might sign free agent Jamal Lewis as a insurance policy if Corey Dillon fails to produce?
Dillon Chin

Although I am intrigued by Lewis, especially after he was quoted in the Baltimore papers saying he'd like to come to New England, I don't see this scenario unfolding. Both Dillon and Lewis are used to being The Man and getting the majority of carries. I don't think either would like to split those duties. Lewis isn't in the best situation to cash in through free agency coming off two subpar years (for him) and his legal troubles, so he might be looking to sign a low-money, one-year deal with the thought of putting up a big season and cashing in sometime in the future. He won't get the necessary carries and production to do that if he's splitting time with Dillon.
Paul Perillo

Hey Guys, love the job you do around here, keep it up. I am writing to you so I can get your thoughts on this scenario. With Edge likely out of Indy, and into free agents, do you think the Cardinals could pick him up? I don't know about Arizona's cap status, but can you imagine if the Cards had Fitzgerald and Boldin, the Edge plus Kurt Warner? Also they have the 10th pick in the draft so they could take Jay Cutler, or improve their defense. Could they be the next Indy?

Did you get lost surfing the net, Ben? This isn't Ask Cardinals Football Weekly. But since you say we do such a good job, I'll try to answer your question anyway. I know Arizona could use a back and who couldn't use one like Edgerrin James? He'd fit in nicely with the two young wideouts, and with all that talent around him maybe Warner can regain some of his old magic from his early days with the Rams. And drafting a quarterback, whether it's Cutler or someone else, is certainly a possibility as well. I just don't have the necessary knowledge of the Cardinals organization that it would take to answer this question any more in depth than that. To paraphrase Col. Nathan Jessup, "I'm an intelligent man but I can't speak intelligently on the inner workings of the Arizona Cardinals organization."
Paul Perillo

Please help! I am alarmed at how ill informed the general media is regarding the franchise tag and how that translates to ill informed fans, even players themselves. Conventional "wisdom" is it's an insult for a player to be franchised. Why? Yes, in theory you get no large upfront bonus (which is why players are brainwashed by agents to be angry). But, in exchange, there is a guaranteed contract (BEFORE THE SEASON STARTS) at the GREATER of the franchise number or a 20 percent raise. I'll cite a great example of 2 players who should have BEGGED to be franchised repeatedly and should sue their agents for signing long-term deals: Peyton Manning and Orlando Pace. Manning signed a 6-year, $99 million deal, with a $35 million bonus prior to 2004. Great, right. NO. His franchise number was $18.4 million. If he refused the long-term deal, with the 20 percent increases, he makes $182 million for 6 years, $40 million guaranteed prior to year 2 starting. Orlando Pace's relative numbers were similar. Amazingly, Pace hated being franchised for 2 years prior to his long-term deal, even though his first 2 years of his new deal (EVEN INCLUDING THE BONUS) netted him far less than the next 2 franchised salaries would have paid ($27 million total). Charles Woodson just made close to $19 million over these past 2 pedestrian seasons thanks to the franchise tag. Now, Oakland is forced to set him free or guarantee him $13 million now for 2006. Smart players should love this "insult." We have a similar situation here with Adam. Belichick had no choice but to get off the franchise treadmill, or else Adam would have to be paid close to $17 million over the 2006-9 seasons, almost double the next highest kicker (Elam). The tricky part is a "fair" deal is about $2-2.5 million per year over 4 seasons, which is a pay cut thanks to the 2005 franchise designation. We know how players react to a "pay cut", even though Adam likely won't get more than $10 million over 4 years from anyone, he may walk unless the Pats pay close to $3 million per year. Remember, Ty Law turned down a $26 million, 4-year deal prior to 2004 because it was a "pay cut" compared to the remaining 2 years on his original deal ($16 total for 2004 & 2005). Foolish. He knew NE wasn't going to keep him in 2005 without a new deal and he won't make that now that he's left NE. He made $7 million with NE in 2004 and about $5 million with the NYJ in 2005. That means unless he gets $14 million over the next 2 years, he screwed up. Even coming off a career high 10 INTs and a Pro Bowl, he won't make close to the $14 million break-even point. Hogs get fed, pigs get slaughtered.
David Sneden

You make a lot of great points David, but you miss the biggest reason why players don't want to be franchised. It's not because the salary is not good. As you pointed out, in many cases the money is great. But it's a one-year deal and offers no security. Using your examples, for instance, you say Peyton Manning is guaranteed $40-plus million prior to the start of Year 2. This is flawed in so many ways I hope I remember then all. First, you operate under the assumption that the Colts will franchise Manning every year for six years and come away with this outrageous total. You and I both know that no team can afford that. In fact, Indy couldn't afford to franchise him at the time they gave him the long-term dea in the first place. And this doesn't even begin to address the real reason why players don't like to be franchised. As I said earlier, what if Manning suffers a career ending injury in Year 1? Well, he gets the $18.4 million salary as a franchise player under your plan (not $40-plus million as you stated) while he would walk away with his $35 million signing bonus, plus his Year 1 salary, plus at least some subsequent year's salary because the Colts wouldn't be able to cut him as an injured player (or be able to swallow the cap hit even if they could) under the long-term agreement. So yes, if he was franchised six years in a row he would be guaranteed more money than he would by signing the long-term deal. But there isn't a player on earth who would take such a risk given the alternative since there's no such thing as a six-year guarantee when it comes to the franchise tag. I hate when people try to attach real-life logic to sports contract negotiations, but supporting the franchise situation as a player would be like a regular schmo like me agreeing to a one-year salary worth much more than I normally get with no guarantee for the future rather than accepting a long-term contract that may be worth less in Year 1 but provides financial security for the future. I don't know about you, but I'll take the security every time.

Now, here's where I agree with you. Players, if they stay healthy, can most definitely "beat the system" by being repeatedly franchised and Orlando Pace and Seattle's Walter Jones have certainly done that. They both made more money as franchised players than they likely would have had they signed long-term deals before. But again, what if either had been seriously injured? Their earning power would have been lost and they wouldn't be owed another penny. By signing long-term deals they provided themselves with security in the event of injury, in addition to big money signing bonuses that serve as de facto guarantees since they prevent teams from cutting them for salary cap reasons. Injuries are the reason no one wants the franchise tag – not because they view it as an insult. In fact, you actually make that point when you throw your Ty Law theory out there. He didn't sign the four-year, $26 million deal because he took the risk of making more on the open market. Yes, he KNEW the Patriots would cut him, healthy or not, after the 2004 season. If he remained healthy, there's no question he would have dwarfed the $26 million he turned down. Actually, even after suffering a significant foot injury, I'm not sure I agree with you that he won't come close to getting that money anyway. More than anything, the CBA woes will prevent him from doing so rather than his play. He picked off 10 passes playing on one foot. If his health improves and he's able to get in better shape you don't think he's worth more than $14 over the next two years? I do and you can bet someone else will too. But in essence he chose your route and passed up the long-term security and bet on staying healthy (like someone who signs a franchise tender would). He didn't and it may have cost him.
Paul Perillo

I don't want to hate too much on Mr. Givens but why has he been so overrated by the emailers of PFW? I am apparently in the minority when I say that he is replaceable. Branch is the big play (Big money) receiver & Givens is the possession receiver. Possession guys are a dime a dozen. Big play guys get Franchise Tagged & Mega deals. Sorry PFW Nation, Givens is not Seymour or Branch, and he will not get the money he is looking for from the Patriots Brass. Thanks for the memories Mr. Givens. And I wish you the best of luck. Am I the delusional one or is it just my fellow PFW readers?
Craig Clark

Well that depends, Craig. I don't think you're delusional by saying Givens won't get the money he's looking for from the Patriots. But I do think you're drastically underrating Givens as a receiver. He's been a tough, physical, hard-nosed receiver who has shown a willingness to go over the middle and to occasionally get deep. He's more than just a possession receiver and he's also come up big in the big games as his seven-game touchdown reception streak in the postseason would attest. Givens likely will get some good cash on the open market and I can't blame the Patriots if they don't want to match whatever offer he receives. But Givens has been a terrific player during his four years here, and in my mind he's not far behind Branch in terms of overall ability.
Paul Perillo

I like many Pats fans do not want to see Drew Brees go to the Dolphins. Why the Chargers don't want to wrap this guy up to a long-term contract is baffling. In any case, I know that the time to put the franchise or transition tag on a player is over. Couldn't the Chargers have put the tag on him and waited to see how is injury progressed. Is a player with a franchise tag guaranteed his one-year salary? Can he be traded? How would it affect their salary cap if he was cut in training camp? At least in this scenario they protect themselves in the short term and keep the option to let him go, sign him, or trade him to a QB needy team. It also gives them more time to evaluate Philip Rivers. Or am I way off base on all my assumptions?
Shane Cahill

I was surprised by the Chargers apparent decision to allow Brees to walk as a free agent. Just to clarify a few things, here's how the franchise process works. A team places the tag on a player and once the player signs the deal, he is then guaranteed the salary for one year. So if the Chargers franchised Brees and he was unable to play in 2006, San Diego still would have been forced to pay him $8.789 million (the franchise salary for QBs) and taken the cap hit. So franchising Brees would have been risky given his tenuous injury status.
Paul Perillo

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