It could be a matter of hours, or at worst days, before we know the terms of the NFL's new labor rules. That means hours, or at worst days, before we know the 2011 salary-cap number. But the most interesting cap-related information coming out today indicates that teams like the Cowboys and Giants -- the two NFC East teams projected to be over the $120 million cap number that's been reported -- could be getting some unforeseen help.
Multiple reports have surfaced today that the new deal will protect veteran players from being "cap casualties" the way they have been in past years -- that there will be some procedure in place that allows for a "soft" cap, at least in the early years of the deal, and allows teams to keep veterans who might otherwise have to be cut to help the team get under the cap.
We don't know yet what form this new rule would take, but if it turns out to be the case, I predict it will be quickly labeled the "Jerry Jones Rule" and will strike at the heart of the issue of who are the "winners" and "losers" from this long labor dispute.
I believe that, once this is over, the co-winners will be the big-spending NFL owners (which is to say most of them) and the players. The provision that requires teams to spend a certain percentage of the cap number (94 percent, is what we've heard) is a big win for the players, who have been frustrated in years' past about teams not spending up to the cap. But it's also a win for the big-spending owners, who have been frustrated in years' past that some of their cheaper brethren haven't put as much revenue-sharing money into player payrolls as the bigger spenders believe they should.
All of the NFC East teams and owners stand to benefit from these kinds of new rules in the new deal. The "losers" will be smaller-market owners such as those in Cincinnati and Buffalo, who almost certainly will wish the revenue-sharing adjustments in the new deal would address their concerns about the way the system is structured. But in the end, this dispute was never about owners versus players as much as it was about the big-spending owners versus the lighter-spending owners. Each side on that dispute was dissatisfied with the revenue-sharing model as it had been constructed. All appearances indicate that the new deal will address the concerns of the former group much more effectively than it will the latter. And Jones, who was a key figure in all of this, will be laughing all the way to the bank.
Roster-wise, what this would mean is that the Cowboys might not have to cut people like Bradie James or Terence Newman or Marion Barber just to get under the cap. It could mean that the Giants can re-sign Ahmad Bradshaw without having to worry about what Brandon Jacobs is making. Again, we wait to find out what the actual rules will be. But if they allow teams to go beyond the cap to retain high-priced veterans, that's only going to help big-market teams like the ones in the NFC East.
UPDATE: These details are from the agreement the owners approved Thursday evening:
2011-2012 TRANSITION RULES
-Special transition rules to protect veteran players in 2011. All teams will have approximately $3.5 million in what would otherwise be performance-based pay available to fund veteran player salaries.
-Each club may "borrow" up to $3 million in cap room from a future year, which may be used to support veteran player costs.
-In 2012, each club may "borrow" up to $1.5 million in cap room from a future year. Both these amounts would be repaid in future years.