It's hard getting old in the NFL.
It's even harder in the era of the salary cap. As players hit and then pass the age of 30, their salaries increasing all the while, a tipping point is reached where they risk becoming the dreaded "salary cap casualty."
However, those aging veterans got some news on Friday that could mean not only longer careers in some cases, but also that many of them won't be spending the twilight of their careers as NFL bedouins, moving from team to team on one-year deals.
As Albert Breer of NFL.com tweeted, the league informed its 32 teams on Friday that the 2014 salary cap will be set at $133 million, an increase of $10 million over last year:
The NFL has notified clubs that the salary cap for 2014 will be $133 million.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) February 28, 2014
As Fox Sports pointed out, it's a much steeper increase than the two seasons that preceded it:
Salary Cap, recent history: 2011 – $120.375 million 2012 – $120.6 million 2013 – $123 million 2014 - $133 million— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) March 1, 2014
Even better was the news passed along by ESPN's Adam Schefter earlier in the day:
Salary cap projected to rise to about $133 million this year, expected to break $140 million next year and $150 million by 2016, per source— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 28, 2014
So, not only is the cap increasing significantly in 2014, but those raises are expected to continue annually over the next couple of years.
That ear-splitting scream you just heard is Jerry Jones howling with glee in Dallas, because it's Christmas for the Cowboys.
|Rank||Team||Cap Space||Rank||Team||Cap Space|
This extra room, you see, means a lot more to the teams with the least cap space than it does to the ones with the most. Not only is this year's cap larger than was originally thought, but the expected increases over the next two years mean teams can "rob Peter to pay Paul," converting salaries to bonuses to spread the cap hit out.
(Cue Jones grinning like the Joker while dancing a jig.)
It isn't just good news for teams. Many veteran players will also benefit, because with more cash in the kitty, a lot of teams will be more likely to retain their own high-priced veterans.
You don't have to look any farther than the aforementioned Cowboys for a prime example.
Should the Cowboys release DeMarcus Ware?
With Dallas still over $16 million over the 2014 cap, according to Spotrac, and defensive end DeMarcus Ware counting for most of that amount, something is going to have to be done about the 31-year-old's deal coming off a season in which he posted a career-low six sacks.
Jones as much as admitted Ware's outright release was a possibility.
However, Ware is also one of the most productive pass-rushers of the past decade, and even in one of the worst years of his career, he was one of the better players on a horrible Dallas defense last year.
Also, as ESPN's Calvin Watkins points out, injuries played a big part in Ware's swoon:
If you review the tapes of the 2013 season you see an explosive Ware in the Week 1 game against the New York Giants where he was credited with six quarterback hurries. In the following two weeks, Ware had four sacks and five quarterback pressures.
The Cowboys have enough problems (especially on defense) without adding to them with Ware's release. Granted, he will still need to be amenable to some sort of restructure (and quite possibly a pay cut), but assuming he wants to return to Dallas, the team now has more wiggle room to keep Ware in the fold.
If not, there will be plenty of other teams waiting, with more money to spend.
That's another benefit. These cap increases can only help bolster the free-agent market, and while older players such as Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen may not be the biggest beneficiary, the 11th-year pro and players like him will benefit nonetheless.
The increased cap likely won't be enough to keep Allen in Minnesota. The Vikings have made absolutely zero effort to re-sign the 31-year-old, who from all indications is ready to move on.
However, with extra coin in their pockets, the number of potential suitors for his services can only increase. For a team like the Denver Broncos, the notion of adding Allen with a back-loaded two- or three-year deal just became much more feasible.
Contenders now have more coin with which to add that mythical "last piece."
It isn't just the superstars who will benefit.
The NFL is filled with mid-range veterans who spend the latter stages of their careers bouncing from team to team. In the past few years, with a stagnant cap and team-friendly rookie wage scale, teams had little choice but to purge many of those players annually, replacing them with younger and cheaper (but not necessarily better) options.
Getting younger will still be a factor in personnel decisions, of course. But with more cap flexibility comes more flexibility when making the choice between a key special teamer and solid reserve who's a great locker-room guy at $2 million per year versus the untested youngster at $500,000.
Mind you, with 32 front offices in the NFL, there will be teams who will find a way to screw this up. Some teams will leave tens of millions in cap space unused, staying closer to the minimum allowable total salaries than to the maximum.
Others still will continue to spend like drunken sailors, blowing through that new cap space as soon as it hits the books.
(Cue Jones grinning like the Joker while dancing a jig.)
However, for the vast majority of teams and players, Friday's news is certainly welcome.
Especially the veterans, as after several years of older players being squeezed by both a flat cap and the new collective bargaining agreement, the old men finally have a little room to breathe.