Strategic planning: How teams should prepare for uncapped year
If you believe everything you read and hear, NFL Armageddon will happen in 2010. That season is set to be an uncapped year after the owners voted to opt out of the league's collective bargaining agreement at last week's meetings in Atlanta.
Operating without a salary cap, pundits will tell you, will cause mass chaos in the market and the deep-pocketed owners will build huge payrolls, stopping at no cost to buy a Super Bowl winner.
I suppose that a scant few owners could try that approach, but the more likely scenario is that with no forced minimum spending, an overwhelming majority of owners -- if not all -- will impose their own cap, which will be well below the minimum that the current CBA demands. Given that scenario, allow me to tell you how things will really go down.
I would assume each owner in the NFL called two meetings this week: One with his finance people, getting their numbers in order for whatever may happen and playing out every possible financial scenario; the other with his general manager, instructing him to put in place a comprehensive plan for dealing with the upcoming changes on the football side.
Before I get into my plan of what I would do as GM once leaving that meeting, we have to assume the following:
The players association will decertify as a union. This decertification may prevent a work stoppage and insure that the NFL will definitely operate without a cap for the 2010 season.
Here is my five-part plan for preparing for an uncapped season:
1. Making a list
My first priority will be to develop a list of players that I would call irreplaceable players. These are players from our team, that may be in the top 10 at their position in the NFL and, most importantly, at a position that impacts the game on third down. Guys who fit this criteria include Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, Jaguars safety Reggie Nelson and Panthers defensive tackle Damione Lewis. From this list I will make sure the players in this category are all under contract for the 2010 season. These players would be untouchable for trades. If I don't have a quarterback on this list, then every day for the next 24 months would be spent finding a way to accomplish this goal.
My second list would consist of players that I call replaceable players. Most of these players are backups; they may add some value to the team today, but will be too expensive in an uncapped year. (Yes, too expensive. I'll explain more about that later.) So all the players from this list would be on my trading block right now. Players who fit this criteria: Cowboys safety Roy Williams, Broncos running back Travis Henry and Ravens running back Willis McGhee.
It's from this list of replaceable players that most teams poorly waste salary cap dollars by having too many middle level-priced players playing in a backup role. Overspending on replaceable players is the biggest cap sin in football because it prevents a team's ability to invest those dollars into young players for contract extensions. One other benefit of having young, hungry players in backup roles is it improves your special teams talent base.
My goal here is to start working on reducing my replaceable player list with a young and cheaper work force.
2. Establishing the core
Our team will need young players who love the game and are willing to work on and off the field. We are going to invest time and money into these players and need a commitment back from our investment. As a football team, you don't want to be too young or too old; you need age balance on your roster. For the next three years I would be looking to find young players who can fill roles and develop experience in our system, so that in 2010 the team is not too young. I am building a football team that is talent-rich and financially secure going into an uncapped year, so my young players need to be developed.