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the NFL
Peter King
September 05, 1994
Put a Sock in It
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September 05, 1994

The Nfl

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Salaries Capped
Here are 10 players who were forced to take a cut in pay this season because of the salary cap.

PLAYER

'93 TEAM

'94 TEAM

'93 SALARY

'94 SALARY

CARL BANKS

REDSKINS

BROWNS

$2,100,000

$225,000

DUANE BICKETT

COLTS

SEAHAWKS

$1,825,000

$750,000

GARY CLARK

CARDINALS

CARDINALS

$3,400,000

$962,500

BOBBY HEBERT

FALCONS

FALCONS

$2,700,000

$1,000,000

MARK JACKSON

GIANTS

GIANTS

$2,000,000

$450,000

JIM McMAHON

VIKINGS

CARDINALS'

$1,600,000

$400,000

MARK RYPIEN

REDSKINS

BROWNS

$3,000,000

$950,000

CLARENCE VERDIN

COLTS

VIKINGS

$1,350,000

$162,500

LORENZO WHITE

OILERS

OILERS

$1,533,000

$475,000

WADE WILSON

SAINTS

SAINTS

$2,125,000

$1,000,000

Put a Sock in It

It's hard to sympathize with NFL players who, like Dolphin running back Mark Higgs, whine about the new salary cap. Last year Higgs averaged 3.7 yards a carry in rushing for 693 yards, and Miami cut this mediocre back's salary from $810,000 in '93 to $450,000 this year. Maybe that's all he's worth in any market.

Then there's Rickey Jackson, the Pro Bowl linebacker with the Saints, who as a 36-year-old free agent this year found that his best offer from a new team was an incentive-laden deal with the 49ers that paid him the NFL minimum of $162,000. What's wrong with making a guy that old sing for his supper?

True, some guys—38-year-old quarterback Phil Simms, who was waived by the Giants, for instance—have found the new reality harsher than others as a result of the cap, which this year puts a $34.6 million limit on salaries for each team. But the clubs are turning over 64% of their projected revenue to the players, and the player benefits are vastly improved over the terms of the last accord.

Yet several players, most of whom never lifted a negotiating linger, are howling? It's ridiculous.

"It is what the players wanted," says Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, who negotiated the collective bargaining agreement and has been sharply criticized by some players for the results he achieved. "Before, the best players were frozen and couldn't move. Now the starters can find out what they're worth in the marketplace. We forced the traditionally cheap teams to spend, and we increased benefits drastically."

Fact is, there probably wouldn't be many complaints about the agreement if some players hadn't felt the pinch of the salary cap. Certainly, few players who were suddenly set free to test the market and saw their salary jump tremendously have bitched. But those who got squeezed (or Tear they will in the near future) sound like members of the National Rifle Association after the crime bill was passed last week.

"Free agency with a cap is like no free agency," says Cowboy wideout Michael Irvin, who will test the free-agent market after this season. "If you're on one team and they say, 'Look, we can't afford to pay you, but you're a free agent and you can go out and test the waters,' you go to the other 27 teams and they have the same problem your team has. They're at the cap. So what good is having the ability to move if you can't move?"

Many players feel this agreement was shoved down their throats by a union weary of battling NFL lawyers. There's some truth to that, but the players are wrong it they think they could have gotten unfettered free agency without some restriction like the salary cap. Says NFLPA attorney Jim Quinn, "The NFL told us, in effect, that they will appeal [the 1992 Freeman McNeil decision, which gave players more freedom of movement] forever, and while they appeal, they will initiate a new restrictive plan of player movement. We faced continuing the court fight for two or three more years without the money to fight."

In a 1989 SI poll of 617 players, 72% said benefits, pension and severance were more important to them than free agency. Well, this agreement gives every active player a benefits package worth $77,193 annually—up from $48,276 under the previous contract. Says 12-year veteran Cowboy safety and special teams player Bill Bates, whose salary was sliced from $384,000 to $170,000 this year, "A lot of guys just want a paycheck next week, but they'll be glad about this deal when they're 50 and they see their pension."

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