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Tuesday, June 5
Upshaw saw need to aid vets

By John Clayton

NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw and the NFL Management Council came up with a way to give veterans more opportunities to be on rosters even during tight salary cap times.

The new collective bargaining agreement extension, which keeps labor peace through 2007 and retains the salary cap through 2006, offers a new structure of minimum salaries that is cap friendly for players who have been in the league for four or more years. Under the system that will start in 2002 once this tentative agreement is ratified, veteran players who sign for the minimums will cost the same as players with three years of experience or less.

New minimum salary scale
Exp. Minimum salary
R $225,000
1 $300,000
2 $375,000
3 $450,000
4-6 *$525,000
7-9 *$650,000
10+ *$750,000
  *All minimum salaries beyond four years of experience will only count $450,000 against teams' salary caps.

"I personally don't believe any veteran gets cut because of the salary cap; it still comes down to if you can play," Upshaw said. "When I started this process, I wanted to do something that was cap friendly for veterans for every club. I wanted to find ways you can get a veteran to cap."

Here's the new system that will start in 2002:

Currently, the top minimum salary is $477,000. Three new minimums will be established for the 2002 season -- $525,000 for players with between four and six years of experience, $650,000 for players with between seven and nine years of experience and $750,000 for 10-year veterans and longer. Teams will now be encouraged to pursue these benefits because only $450,000 will count against the cap and only $450,000 will come out of the team's checking account.

Where is the extra money coming from?

It comes from an increased benefits package, gained from two sources. First, the percentage of the players' share of designated gross revenues increases from the current 63 percent to 64 percent next year and as high as 65.5 in 2005 if the players exercise an option clause in the proposed deal. The second part of the "offset" comes from the savings of not increasing minimums each year.

In the past, minimum salary rose roughly 10 percent a year. With the cap increasing only $5 million a year, teams lost $2 million of cap room annually without adding a single player or doing anything.

Let's use Raiders receiver Andre Rison as an example. He's been in the league 12 years. Teams may be so tight against the cap that they might not offer him even the $477,000 minimum. Instead, they might pay a rookie $209,000. If they find a player with three years experience, that team would save $58,000 because the minimum is $418,000.

Next year, Rison can make $750,000 but it would only count $450,000 against the cap. An interested team would also be able to give him a signing bonus of $25,000 and still qualify for this new program to preserve veteran players.

On top of that, players fitting into this minimum salary program would qualify for a league-wide incentive pool that also wouldn't count against the cap. The incentives would be paid based on the percentage of downs played. The pool, which comes out of the slow-down of minimum salary payouts and the increased benefits, could be as much as $40 million and affecting perhaps 250 players.

All of a sudden, a 10-year veteran will be more encouraged to stay with a team because he might earn $900,000 to $1 million with incentives and count only $450,000 against the cap, $27,000 less than this year's minimum and around $75,000 less than what the 2002 minimum would be under the existing terms of the CBA.

"For players in their fourth year, 10th year or more, it comes down to ability," Upshaw said. "There's only a $75,000 difference between a fourth year player and a guy with three years of experience but there is no difference in the cap.

"I thought we had to look at it."

Patriots owner Bob Kraft pushed for the idea of an incentive pool to keep veterans. Owners and general managers wanted to slow down the annual 10 percent increases in all the minimums and replace it by playing for production.

If this deal is ratified, the minimums for all levels will increase $5,000 for each category every two years. The biggest saving will be among the rookies. The new extension will no longer tie the increases in the rookie pool to the seven to 10 percent increases in designated revenues. This year the rookie pool has grown to $113 million. If DGR increased by 10 percent, the rookie pool would jump to $124.3 million. That's $11.3 million for no past production.

With the rookie pool growing at a prescribed formula, most of that $11.3 million can be used for a rookie incentive pool or as additions to the veteran incentive pool.

"We wanted to help the aging veterans, the special teams, the punters and kickers and the guys who are right on the fringe," Upshaw said. "If we didn't have minimums, guys would be playing for less than the minimum and we can't have that. Getting $750,000 isn't bad work."

A few other things were cleaned up with the collective bargaining extension:

  • Starting next year, a team that designated a franchise player will have two weeks into the free agency system to reach a long-term deal and retain the ability to franchise a player next year. Consider the Jason Taylor example. He was close to agreeing to a six-year, $42 million deal an hour before franchise tenders had to be filed with the league.

    Worried that they would lose the ability to keep Taylor as a franchise player, the Dolphins filed the franchise tag. Now they can't reach a long term deal until July 15 because if they do, they won't be allowed to franchise other players until Taylor's contract expired.

  • The players benefit from getting a bigger slice of the revenues. Each increase of one percent in the players' share works out to $1.7 million per team. The current average is 63 percent. The new deal takes it to an average of around 64 to 64.5 percent with a possible high of 65.5.

  • The average benefits package for a player is about $175,000. The next CBA increases that number to $200,000 a player. Plus, the CBA will increase the credit benefits for past players by $100 per year of experience.

  • The owners get labor peace through 2007, one more year than expected. Originally, both sides were talking about a two-year extension. Getting the extra year will help owners know the bottom line.

    "This is the fourth time we've extended the agreement and believe me we will do it again," Upshaw said. "We've had labor peace for 14 years."

    And this time, the union and owners paid extra attention to the vets.

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