A significant problem facing the National Football League is the ever-escalating salaries of quarterbacks and the way those contracts impact on salary caps. With some teams, quarterbacks are making such a large percentage of the cap, it often doesn’t leave enough payroll to build a quality team around those quarterbacks.
Short of brilliant cap management, there appear to be two obvious solutions to this problem:
• Include in the next collective bargaining agreement wording, similar to what the NHL has, that limits the percentage of the cap one player can receive.
This would seem to be the easiest remedy because it helps everyone except the quarterback. From a personnel standpoint, there will be more money for all of the remaining players. From a team standpoint, it makes cap management that much easier. The only one who loses is the starting QB and he’s just one player.
• Of their own volition, quarterbacks could step forward for the good of the team and agree to accept less money.
Professional athletes of every stripe frequently tell their adoring public that their fondest wish is to win. That happens to be one of the great untruths of our times. Almost every athlete wants to make as much money as he can. That's his fondest wish. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the American way.
But, really, how much money does one player need?
The Steelers are a team with salary-cap problems, which are of their own making. They had too many players making too much money delivering too little production. Their cap problems are such that team president Art Rooney recently said the usual practice of extending the starting quarterback, in this case Ben Roethlisberger, two years before his current contract expires might not be happen.
Rooney said, ''Our intention is we want him here beyond his contract.’’ But an extension, on the deal that expires after the 2015 season, might not come this year or even next. Clearly, the money that a quarterback of Roethlisberger’s stature might expect is not currently available.
According to published reports, Roethlisberger has made more than $76 million in his career, which dates back to 2004. The Rooney family has made Roethlisberger and his children and his children’s children wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of most. Roethlisberger, in turn, has delivered stellar play, which includes three trips and two wins at the Super Bowl. Both sides have prospered by this relationship.
Roethlisberger is one of those guys who invariably says his primary goal is winning. Well, if it truly is, then he should back up those sentiments with a new-age approach to negotiations. Instead of behaving like almost every player before him, Roethlisberger could not ask for the sun and the moon, which he doesn’t need because he figuratively already has them.
And here’s the beauty of such a move. Unlike in baseball, which doesn't have a salary cap and where a player not relentlessly demanding every cent he can get is considered a traitor to his union, Roethlisberger’s brethren would not be angry with him. They would be pleased. Every single one of his teammates would look at Roethlisberger through a different prism. They might think, ''Hey, the guy is nuts.’’ But they’d love him for his craziness.
His generosity would enable the Steelers to distance themselves from their salary-cap problems. They would be able to acquire free agent and build a better team. Roethlisberger would be the anti-Joe Flacco, the quarterback who extorted $120 million from the Baltimore Ravens after he led them to a Super Bowl. That salary might cost the Ravens another chance at the Super Bowl in Flacco’s career.
This doesn't mean Roethlisberger should be paid like some tight end. He would still be the highest-paid player on the team. His salary might be $10 million, $12 million, maybe even a bit more. But it would give the Steelers a degree of cap relief. Ben would be a hero.
This is not to suggest he must do this or he would be wrong if he didn’t. It’s his choice. He can demand a Flacco-like contract and severely limit the Steelers chances of building a Super Bowl team around him. Or he could take a bit less, maybe even more than a bit, and help his team rebuild, allow his teammates to get a larger slice of the salary cap, please his fans and keep his family well beyond filthy rich for decades.