The Green Bay Packers have been following the Pittsburgh Steelers lead for a few years. They build almost exclusively through the draft, they converted to the 3-4 defense, and the Packers even hired the architect of Pittsburgh’s original 3-4 defense to run theirs – Dom Capers.
Last week, the Steelers made the announcement that even though the NFL won’t have a salary cap this season, they will. That is, the Steelers will have a self-imposed salary cap determined by calculating what the salary cap would have been this season, had the collective bargaining agreement not expired, and using that number to cap their player expenditures.
“We will operate as we always have. We will operate as if we have a cap,” Director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. “You don’t know what you’re going to be dealing with. First of all, no one’s been in an uncapped year since 1993, so it’s a whole different era and no one knows how this will play out. We don’t know, if there is a new [labor] deal at any point, what the new rules are going to be.”
On the surface, it’s possible the move will put the Steelers at a competitive disadvantage. Certainly, NFL teams have to be wary of assholes like Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones and Washington Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder, who may well throw caution to the wind and throw around tons of money to gobble up the best free agents on the market.
However, in the long run, taking a cautious approach in an offseason of uncertainty makes a lot more sense. Considering Packers general manager Ted Thompson has a pretty cautious record in free agency to begin with, we expect the Packers to follow the Steelers’ lead.
Although the salary cap as we know it may never come back, there is a real possibility some sort of salary restraints will be in effect once the owners and the player’s union finally agree on a labor deal. If or when that happens, the owners who spend superfluous amounts of money this season could be in real trouble, having to dump salary and cut players they just can’t afford anymore.
When the salary cap was imposed in 1993, it took teams several years to adapt. Neither teams nor agents knew how to properly structure contracts to ensure 1. teams could keep quality players for the duration of that contract, and 2. players were really taken care of long term. Year after year, quality veteran players were being cut or renegotiating their contracts simply because their team was over the salary cap.
With the uncertain labor situation it doesn’t make sense to spend astronomical amounts of money in free agency. Sure, the Redskins will probably do their best to buy a title again this offseason, but the Packers would be wise to take the more forward-thinking approach.