Original post on Forbes.com
The NFL Salary Cap was introduced in the 1993 Collective Bargaining Agreement and in 2011 it tightened for rookies. The goal was to create parity for teams and not allow a limited number of NFL owners to dramatically outspend others. The Rookie Cap was designed to take bonus money away from untested players entering the League and redistribute it to proven productive veterans. The law of unintended consequences has created other trends which are not healthy for pro football. The "Three Strikes" law intended to put career criminals in jail for life and reduce crime has not operated that way. Because of jail overcrowding, younger more violent criminals with less than three strikes are let out on the streets, while older inmates whose age dictates less criminal behavior are held behind bars. The cap has had similar unintended consequences.
A two tier compensation system has evolved. Major stars are receiving exponentially larger contracts. The top of the quarterback market is in the $20-22 million range. Because of cap limitations it means that a team must have rookies and aging veterans who are salaried at the minimum as the backups. When a critical player is hurt during the year, it has a disproportionate impact on a team's play. The days of Joe Montana being backed up by Steve Young and Steve Bono on the 49ers are over. A huge talent gap exists between starters and their backups. There is no cap room available to replace the starter with an equivalent player, even in the unlikely event such player could be found. A few key injuries at critical positions will destroy a team's ability to compete for the Super Bowl.
First Round rookies are forced into becoming starters well before they are ready. Positions like quarterback and offensive line have a learning curve that makes it difficult to play well immediately. A large cap number for a rookie means a team cannot have a talented veteran starting at the position. Tampa Bay's Jameis Winston and Tennessee's Marcus Mariotta will be on the field from the opening snap. The pro game is faster, the offense and defense more complex, and the possibility of learning on the bench and gradually being integrated is gone. Green Bay's QB Aaron Rodgers is arguably the NFL's best quarterback. He spent several years behind QB Brett Favre learning from a master, and it served him well. Because of the hundreds of outlets of football information, these young QB's will be under the microscope. If they have troubles, they may be adjudged to be a "bust" in the first season and their confidence broken. The rush to judgment is a new phenomenon, a young QB was given much more time to develop prior to the salary cap.
Fans love the ability to follow a single player on a team for his entire career. It is not free agency that has led to the torrent of players switching teams, it is the salary cap. Teams are forced to discard fan favorites because of cap limitations. The cap breaks up happy marriages between teams and players. It has become more difficult to follow which player is playing with which team. This break in continuity is unsettling.
If the salary cap provided parity, why are teams like New England, Seattle, Green Bay and Denver perpetually in the playoffs? Stable, visionary ownership, skilled front offices, talented coaches are the key to winning in football. The salary cap has not delivered on its core goal, and the unintended consequences hurt the NFL.