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American Football The NFL salary cap conundrum

TOM BRADY, six-time Super Bowl winner, three-time MVP of the league and contender for the “Goat” (Greatest of all time) of the entire 100 years of the NFL. 

Who is the greatest is a conversation for another time, but what is certain is that Brady is easily one of the best and most successful players we have seen in a generation, but what else has he done apart from play incredible football to help his team, the New England Patriots, win so consistently for so many years? 

The teams in the league are bound by a salary cap, something that might be useful in England’s Premier League given the escalating wages and domination of the richest teams. 

Each team’s total yearly player contracts must be under an amount of dollars set by the league — this year it is $188.2 million. 

This seems a heck of a lot on first glance, but consider that the current highest-paid player, Lions quarterback Matt Stafford, is paid $29.5m of that cap, you start to get a picture of how hard it might be for team management to build a successful team (the Detroit Lions finished with just six wins and 10 losses last season). 

During his career, Brady has consistently restructured and renegotiated his contracts in order to let the Patriots focus salary cap on other areas of the team. 

He is estimated to have given up over $60m over his 18-year career, yet his career earnings are still well over $197m — he’s done just fine and has the Super Bowl rings too. 

Lessons could be learned by the younger quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson who will have several more contract negotiations to come in their possible Hall of Fame careers. 

In the last week, the Atlanta Falcons have re-signed two key players to two very large contracts, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones are now two of the highest-paid players in the league at their position. 

Alongside these, the Falcons also have large amounts of money invested in quarterback Matt Ryan, left tackle Jake Matthews, centre Alex Mack, corner Desmond Trufant, pass rusher Vic Beasley and one of the top receivers in the league Julio Jones. 

You might start to wonder how this can be possible in a league with stiff salary cap rules. 

Compare the Falcons with the Seattle Seahawks of the last few years — they have had to say goodbye to franchise legends Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and Frank Clark because they could not afford to keep them all. 

The Falcons are taking a “bet” right now, looking to succeed in the next couple of years understanding that they will need to offload some of these players and their contracts in the future before the bulk of the money becomes payable. 

This is known in the game as a “back-loaded contract” — players will get the bulk of their money at the end of their contract. A good general manager will balance the contracts, some front-loaded, some back-loaded, and will hope to keep new talent coming through in the draft. 

Whether you are the Patriots, who have their top players doing them “favours” by taking less money than their talent might deserve, or the Falcons moving money owed around in time, one more thing is key to their remaining competitive and that’s the draft. 

Rookies enter the league on a set pay scale for their first few years which is low and friendly to a team. 

For example, the highest paid player on a team is generally the quarterback, so for the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns who are having some success with their young quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield, the clock is ticking until they have to open the chequebook and perhaps make sacrifices elsewhere in their team. 

In other news, the New York Giants have had a tough few years, and things have not got much better as training camp opened, their starting wide receivers look like spending some time on the side lines.

Sterling Shepard has a fractured thumb and Golden Tate is appealing a four-game suspension for a banned substance relating to fertility medicine. 

The 49ers on the other hand have had some great news in that star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been cleared to train for the first time since a torn ACL ended his 2018 season in week three. 

The promising Kyle Shanahan offence should be fun to watch this season.  

Duncan is an editor on the NFL website and podcast Ninety Nine Yards, which you can find online and all good podcast providers.

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