NFL salary cap helps players - and Baltimore?

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It's causing big problems in baseball and hockey, but the NFL Players Association says the league's new free-agency system that includes a salary cap is working just fine.

And it might even help Baltimore's bid to bring the Tampa Bay Buccaneers here.

The Buccaneers' player payroll increased by $11.4 million in the past two years, according to figures compiled by the NFLPA.

The Bucs, who had the league's second-lowest payroll ($24,484,000) in 1992, spent $35,889,000 this year because of the rising salary levels caused by the league's new free-agency system.

The increase in payroll has pushed the Bucs into the red for the first time and is one of the reasons the city of Tampa is having a difficult time finding a buyer who is willing to keep the team in Tampa.

Although the trustees say Peter Angelos hasn't made a formal offer yet, the Orioles owner has indicated he's willing to pay $200 million for the team if he can move it to Baltimore.

The Tampa Bay figures were included in a 40-page supplement called "On the sidelines" to the annual salary survey conducted by the NFLPA.

It was designed to support the NFLPA's argument that the new free-agency system tied to a salary cap is a good deal for the NFL players, although baseball and hockey players are resisting such a system.

Several NFL teams -- notably the Washington Redskins and the San Francisco 49ers -- had to cut their player payrolls to get under the $34.6 million cap, but those decreases were offset by the increase in payrolls for traditionally low-paying teams such as the Buccaneers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose payroll went up almost $13 million.

The NFLPA concedes that league-wide salary expenditures decreased from $1.097 billion in 1993 to $1.006 billion this year.

That means the average team player payroll went from $39.1 million to $35.8 million. Although the cap is $34.6 million, more than half the teams -- including the Bucs -- spent more this year because signing bonuses are prorated and counted in future years.

But Doug Allen, the assistant executive director of the NFL, said the decrease came about because more than 200 contracts were restructured last year to shift money from 1994 to 1993 so it wouldn't count under the cap.

He prefers to compare 1994 with 1992, the last year of the old Plan B system. According to the NFLPA figures, the teams spent $779 million in 1992, an average of $27.3 million. The figures increased 33 percent this year.

That's why Allen says this system is good for football, although many veterans who were forced to take pay cuts have complained about it.

"I think our system is intended to work the way it's working. I'm glad our players are out on the field performing instead of outside the stadiums with picket lines. The system is so much better than it used to be, it's mind-boggling," Allen said.

Allen also pointed out the increase in benefits from $78 million in 1992 to $123 million this year.

Among other things, it means that Mike Frier of the Seattle Seahawks, who was paralyzed in an auto accident, will get $100,000 a year for 1995 and 1996. In 1997, it increases to $120,000.

A player disabled on the field also starts at $100,000 a year and it eventually goes up to $200,000. That includes players injured in the past such as New England Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley and Detroit Lions lineman Mike Utley.

HTC A player who can't work because of degenerative injuries -- such as former Oakland Raider Jim Otto, who had to replace both knees -- will get $75,000 a year.

The survey also includes all the salary figures -- including the cap number and the average number -- for every player in the league.

Troy Aikman, the Dallas Cowboys' quarterback who signed a $50 million deal a year ago, has the highest average in the league -- $6,366,200. But his cap number -- the figure the Cowboys must count toward their cap this year -- is $3,037,900 because the deal is backloaded.

By contrast, the player with the highest cap number this year is Steve Young of the San Francisco 49ers at $4,525,000. But his average of $5,050,000 is second to Aikman because the overall worth of his contract isn't as high as Aikman's.

HIGHEST-PAID PLAYERS

Cap number Steve Young QB 49ers $4,525,000

John Elway QB Broncos $4,383,000

Reggie White DL Packers $4,275,000

Stan Humphries QB Chargers $3,601,800

Barry Sanders RB Lions $3,479,900

Average per year Troy Aikman QB Cowboys $6,366,200

Steve Young QB 49ers $5,050,000

John Elway QB Broncos $4,821,600

Reggie White DL Packers $4,250,000

Junior Seau LB Chargers $4,165,200

Highest paid by position 1994 cap Steve Young QB 49ers $4,525,000

Barry Sanders RB Lions $3,479,000

Jerry Rice WR 49ers $2,963,000

Will Wolford OL Colts $2,550,000

Jackie Harris TE Bucs $2,425,000

Reggie White DE Packers $4,275,000

Dan Wilkinson DT Bengals $3,465,000

Junior Seau LB Chargers $2,885,700

Rod Woodson DB Steelers $3,400,400

Louis Oliver S Bengals $1,600,300

Morten Andersen K Saints $1,056,600

Greg Montgomery P Oilers $500,000

Highest paid by position Average per year Troy Aikman QB Cowboys $6,366,200

Barry Sanders RB Lions $3,950,000

Tim Brown WR Raiders $2,750,000

Howard Ballard OL Colts $2,625,000

Jackie Harris TE Bucs $1,900,000

Reggie White DE Packers $4,250,000

Dan Wilkinson DT Bengals $2,679,200

Junior Seau LB Chargers $4,165,200

Rod Woodson DB Steelers $3,470,900

Tim McDonald S 49ers $2,506,500

Morten Andersen K Saints $1,072,900

Chris Mohr P Bills $654,000

Note: The 1994 cap number includes the portion of a player's contract that is counted against a team's salary cap this year -- base salary, prorated signing bonus, reporting and roster bonuses and likely to be earned incentive bonuses. The average per year number is the total worth of the contract divided by the number of years in the contract.

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