NFL's Recipe For Success
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 00:10
If anyone tells you they’re not surprised by the way the 2013 NFL season has panned out thus far, have them shoot me an email and they can play the books for me this week.
Or just tell them to stop lying.
Every season, the NFL is full of surprises, and this year is no exception. Peyton Manning and his noodle arm have scored a record 16 touchdowns in the Broncos’ first four games. The AFC East, arguably the weakest division in football, is a staggering 8-2 against out-of-division foes. And crazily enough, the Giants, Redskins, Niners and Packers are already in a hole with panicking fan bases while the Chiefs and Dolphins are a combined 7-1.
The NFL strives for parity and has been successful in a big way. Each of the last 10 years, a team with the worst record in its division the previous year has gone on to win its division. This worst-to-first pattern will likely continue this year, seeing as the Saints are off to a red-hot 4-0 start and were tied for worst in the NFC South last season.
The competitiveness and resiliency of nearly every team is a major factor in why the NFL is the most popular league in the country, enjoying record revenues and viewership each season. But how has the NFL leadership managed to achieve this competitive balance?
1. The Salary Cap
The total amount that each of the current 32 teams in the NFL can spend on their players is $123 million, which may seem like a lot. However, having one star player like a Drew Brees or a Joe Flacco will greatly curtail what can be spent on other players. Therefore, teams in bigger markets cannot simply outspend their opponents; they have to strategically craft their rosters.
Additionally, after the implementation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement last year, a salary floor now exists. Each team must spend roughly $109 million on their players, which forces franchises to remain competitive and keep a strong product on the field for fan bases in smaller markets.
2. The Draft
Every year, hundreds of players from the NCAA are eligible to join the ranks of NFL players through the NFL draft. The team with the worst record always gets the first pick, so, theoretically, the best player in college goes to the worst team, and so on. Unlike the NBA, there are no ping-pong balls, and the stability gives hope and excitement to fan bases, while also allowing a team to use its draft pick as a bargaining chip for trades.
Further, rookie salaries are controlled so a team can’t pour too much money into an unproven investment. In the past, high picks were given massive contracts only to underperform, get injured or have off-field issues. Now, rookie contracts are limited, and the risk of a potential draft bust is substantially mitigated.
3. Free Agency Rules
An unrestricted free agent can sign with any team they please. Tools such as the franchise tag and “tendering” are in place, however, that protect a franchise from losing its most valuable assets with no compensation.
The franchise tag can be used once per team per season and essentially prevents a player with an expiring contract from leaving for an additional year. The player is paid the average salary of the five highest-paid players at his position over the course of the last five seasons.
When a player is “tendered,” if one team makes an offer to that player and the original team doesn’t match it, the new team compensates the original team with a draft pick. This means if a team is to lose an expensive key player, it holds a draft pick to try to fill the void.
4. Drug Testing
According to Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the NFL drug-tests more rigorously than any league in the world, even the Olympic Games. The league tests randomly, as well as in cases where there is reasonable belief that a player is using banned substances. NFL punishment for a failed test is also swift and severe — the first offense is a four-game suspension with no pay. The second offense: eight games with no pay. The third: one year with no pay, with the punishments becoming increasingly and predictably more severe.
Other sports leagues — such as the MLB — should start thinking about some of these methods to help address their current issues.
When Alex Rodriguez can continue playing during a PED appeal with more chemicals in him than a YMCA pool, there’s a problem.
When he makes more than the entirety of the Houston Astros team, there’s a problem.
When the Astros can draw a record 0.0 Nielson rating in the Houston television market on Sept. 22 (which basically means that there were more people in your Problem of God class than were watching the Astros on TV), there’s most definitely a problem.
Until other leagues can learn to follow suit, the NFL will continue to be a city upon a hill in the sporting world, with unpredictable seasons, huge ratings and sky-high revenue.
Matt Castaldo is a junior in the College. FULL CONTACT appears every Tuesday.