The NFL is facing a bit of a star problem. No, the league is not lacking in stars whatsoever, with players such as Aaron Rodgers, Odell Beckham Jr., and Tom Brady carrying the mantle for the league. The problem they are facing is just how to pay these stars to keep them on their team long-term, however.
Some of the league’s best, including Aaron Donald, Julio Jones, and David Johnson, are holding out of their teams’ mandatory mini-camp in hopes of a new contract. Even Cowboys’ guard Zack Martin missed voluntary OTAs while awaiting his contract extention.
And, of course, the players’ frustration is understandable.
Football is a dangerous game, one that can quite literally end your functional life at any moment. These players have to get their money while they can, and holding out of team activities is the only leverage these players have over the organization.
On the other hand you can understand why the team’s don’t want, or sometimes can’t, pay their own free agents no matter how great they are. The NFL operates under a hard salary cap, hoping to increase parity across the league and give every market an equal chance to compete each season.
Whether or not the salary cap accomplishes this goal is up for debate, but it may be time for the NFL to look to their basketball-playing counterparts for advice.
The NBA has a salary cap clause called the “Larry Bird Exception.” This exception allows teams to go over the salary cap in order to sign their own free agents. A team owns a player’s “Bird Rights,” after they have been on the team for three seasons, and these rights can be traded with the player.
So, for example, the Dallas Cowboys would have Zack Martin’s Bird Rights and would be able to offer him the same amount of money as any other NFL team, despite what their salary cap situation might be.
Things are a little different in the NBA due to their max contract rules, but I do believe Bird Rights can work in the NFL.
Because of the way the salary cap is instituted in the NFL, team’s that are able to find productive rookie quarterbacks have a distinctive advantage over everyone else. They’re able to have a good quarterback on the cheap while paying more money to build the team around him. But, once that quarterback is up for a new contract, their team is almost destined to fall apart.
This is similar to what the Seattle Seahawks are currently going through as the core of their team falls apart around Russell Wilson. It can be argued that these rules help to break up potential dynasties, but in reality they just punish teams who draft well and practice effective team building.
If the Cowboys wish to re-sign all five of their offensive lineman, which they were smart enough to draft, they should be able to do so without sacrificing players like DeMarcus Lawrence or Byron Jones on defense.
And after all, if a team is able to build a strong team and potential dynasty, is it really up to the league to stop them? Shouldn’t the rest of the league just have to be better?
These are questions the NBA is currently facing as the Golden State Warriors take over the league, but in a sport such as the NFL where one star doesn’t have the profound effect on team success he can have in basketball, it’s much harder to envision “super teams” developing.