There are many reasons tossed around why the NFL is the most popular of the three major sports in the US. A common refrain is that unlike MLB or the NBA more teams in the NFL have a legitimate shot at winning a title.
With a hard salary cap, restricted free agency, and out of conference schedules that factor prior year results it would seem that no other league has done more to ensure the most competitive environment possible. The argument could be made that in the case of the NFL all these moves has ensured that more teams will truly be in position to compete for a title and not just a very few richer teams dominating teams with lesser resources as in the case of baseball for example.
We hear in time and time again that in baseball the “big-market” teams dominate and there is no doubt that baseball players receive the most player friendly contracts of any of the three major leagues. The sport has no true salary camp and when a 30′ish Albert Pujols gest a 10-year guaranteed contract valued at $254 M it dwarfs the guaranteed $62.5 M Aaron Rodgers will receive through his new contract with the Packers.
Doing a very quick review of the teams that have played in the major championships for each of the three sports since 2000 the numbers don’t actually reflect the waht the perception has been concerning the competition in football compared to baseball and then finally basketball.
In the 14 Super Bowls that have been played beginning in 2000 there have been 9 different champions, 4 teams have repeated as champion, and only one team has repeated three times. Sixteen of the NFL’s 32 teams have played in the game, 5 have played more than once in the Super Bowl, one has played in the game 3 times, and 1 has played in the Super Bowl give times.
The numbers don’t perfectly sync up as the 14th World Series won’t be played until next October, but when we compare the numbers from the 13 played to date we see a very similar trend with 9 different teams winning the Series, 4 teams repeating, and no team repeating more than twice.
Overall 14 of MLB’s 30 teams have played in the Series, 7 have played in the Series more than once, two have played in it three times, and one team has played in 4 World Series since 2000.
The only area where we see a few teams dominatiing a league’s championships is in the NBA where 8 of the League’s last 13 championships have been won by two teams (Lakers and Spurs) and things look going forward as if the Heat is about to have a run of championships. This makes perfect sense when compared to the other leagues because in the game of basketball if you have 2-3 truly elite players you can are in a better position to dominate the league as compared to the NFL or MLB.
The push and pull between NFL owners and players over the amount of guaranteed money is more a byproduct of economics and roster management as keeping the league competitive to every team. If you look at the performance since the implementation of the salary cap certain teams have been hurt by the cap and had to purge players, but the very best run organizations have found ways to deal with cap and the worst run organizations seem to stink regardless of schedules biased to them, high draft picks, and an abundance of money.
Recently we have seen a trend in the contracts of certain players where they have agreed to lesser potential payouts in exchange for larger amounts of guaranteed money. Players like Brady, Flacco, Romo, Rodgers, and Manning all agreed upon contracts with over $50.0 M in guaranteed money. Why is fairly simple as the NFL has become more and more of a passing league and if you dont’ have a quarterback who can effectively throw the football you just are not going to be a competitive team. Whether a team likes it or not they are forced between choosing to give a quarterback like Romo who has been ineffective in the play-offs, but has shown he can amass big yardage throwing the ball or run the risk of replacing him with a journey man or unproven draft picks.
One byproduct of giving more guaranteed money to certain players who a team deems vital to the success of the organization is that it makes long-term salary cap management more difficult, but consider the potential consequence of the recent contract signed by Darelle Revis. Reports are that Revis signed a contract with Tampa Bay that contained no guaranteed money. In effect, the only money Tampa is obligated to pay Revis is the money he is owed is for his current season. If for example, it becomes apparent this year that he can’t recovery from the knee injury and is a shadow of his former self it is my understanding they can cut him and incurr no future obligation against their cap.
I won’t claim to know all the terms in the Revis contract and won’t even claim to understand all the legal concepts of a contract negotiated to confirm to the standards and rules agreed to as part of a collective bargaining agreement. What I do recall however is a story about how the late Tex Schram would handle contract negotiations for the Cowboys. Schram would also negotiate with Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach first for a very simple reason. Roger had never considered professional football to be his economic future and while he was playing he began selling homes for a well known realtor in Dallas. He was so successful that he soon was making more money in the off-season than playing football partly because negotiating without any representation he would agree on what he thought was a fair offer from the Cowboys and not what he needed to live on from the Cowboys.
After Schram got Roger to agree to a number smaller than almost all of his peers around the NFL would he negotiate with the other Cowboy players and he would also begin with that he just could not pay them more than Roger because Roger was the leader of the team. Result was that the Cowboys for years had one of the lower payrolls in the league until Roger was told by his teammates how Schram handled the team’s contracts.
My point? Consider that the Arizonia Cardinals have tossed out the idea to 3rd round pick Tyrann Mathieu that they will be offering him a contract with no guaranteed money. I would suspect that these comments are influenced by Mathieu’s recent problems at LSU, his missing his last year in school to enroll in drug rehab, and that no matter how good a player he was in college there is no guarantee that will translate to the NFL. From a business perspective the idea of guaranteed money makes perfect sense. A player with potential, but no proven track record of success and a history of substance problems when he didn’t have a large amount of money is now going to be given more money and more access than he ever has had in his life.
Mathieu’s representation however doesn’t agree and have pointed to the fact that it has been customary for third round picks in the NFL to have a portion of their contract guaranteed, but the key here is customary and nothing something promised or protected under the new NFL labor agreement. In short, there is no requirement for guaranteed money.
Hence, my referencing the story of Tex Schram’s negotiating contracts and the potential impact of the Revis’ contract. Consider this negotiating stance from Arizonia. When healthy Revis is not one of the five best cornerbacks in the NFL, not one of the five best defensive backs, but one of the top five defenders in the NFL. He is a defensive game changer in a league that is more and more dominated by quarterbacks. Revis at 90% of what he was prior to the injury is better than most corners in the NFL and this is all based upon what he has done IN THE LEAGUE and not college.
If Revis is willing to sign a long-term contract with no guaranteed money in it with Tampa why is it an unreasonable request when one considersTyran’s history with failing multiple drug tests in college and no proven track record of performance on an NFL field.
Maybe I am all wrong with this and maybe Revis’ contract will be just a blip, but it would seem to me that for NFL team’s that are required to guarantee more and more money to players they know they need on their roster to be competitive there is a very good chance there will be less and less guaranteed money offered to those players who are uncertainties.