Don't be fooled by all those deep cuts on NFL rosters, with veterans such as Todd Heap, Roy Williams and John Kasay being released. Some of the dozens of players being shown the door might step right back through it _ for less money _ very soon.
The new labor deal hasn't really changed the dynamics for teams dealing with the salary cap. Sure, the cap has been softened a bit, with teams allowed to exceed it this year by $3 million and to get creative with contracts for non-rookies. But that isn't a wholesale change from the past.
"The NFL salary has always been a soft cap," agent Ben Dogra said. "This year is no different in years when a salary cap has existed."
What is different, of course, is the condensed period in which teams must make decisions on who to keep, who to bring in, who to renegotiate with, and who to say "so long" to.
Even for a very short time.
Consider that Heap has been an integral part of the Ravens for most of the last decade and is one of Joe Flacco's most reliable targets. He'll receive his walking papers Thursday, saving Baltimore nearly $5 million against the cap.
And on Friday, he just might jog back to the Ravens for less money, or for a similar deal spread out over more years to lessen the cap hits.
It's all part of the "managing the cap" game every team has been playing for years. The surprise, according to agent Peter Schaffer, is that after a 4 1/2-month lockout, very little has been altered as teams negotiate contracts, and that there isn't as much wiggle room under the cap as owners hoped for.
"For the last 18 months, teams said they wanted to reduce their cap numbers, which was what caused the lockout," Schaffer said. "Then they complain there's not enough cap room now in this system."
There's actually plenty of room, with as much as $123 million in cash available, for clubs that have spent wisely in the past. All 32 teams must commit to paying 99 percent of the cap in cash this season. So there will be spending sprees, some of which began Wednesday as the likes of Santonio Holmes, DeAngelo Williams and Matt Hasselbeck on offense, plus Charles Johnson, Paul Posluszny and Eric Weddle on defense, got rich. Uh, richer.
And there will be plenty of spending money for teams such as Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and Carolina, all well under the cap heading into this frantic week.
"Hopefully, they will spend it," Schaffer said.
"The market is going to be flooded with players unlike anything that's happened in the history of the National Football League," Ravens coach John Harbaugh added. "We've got to do everything we can to improve our team, and we're going to need a little space to do that."
Thus, the jettisoning of veterans. And, most likely, the return of some of them to Baltimore or Dallas or New York or wherever.
What concerns many agents is that with the salary cap somewhat stagnant this year, teams will run out of money after wining, dining and signing the elite free agents.
"The hope was for this great litany of free agents that hit the market, the only thing that could hurt their economic futures is a reduced cap," Schaffer said "And that's what we have, a reduced cap.
"It appears top players will get top dollars, but you wonder what will happen to second-tier free agents."
This year, at least, they could be in pretty decent shape because of the agreement between owners and players to spend all but 1 percent of the cap in cash. That is a big victory for the players as "dead money" going to players who are gone from a team's roster will take up virtually no space.
But also consider this: How many teams want to bring in players from elsewhere who are unfamiliar with the system, the coaching staff and the other guys on the roster? Better off bringing back someone you just released, especially if it's for fewer bucks.
And how many teams want to rely on rookies after the lockout erased offseason workouts and minicamps? Again, better to have an indoctrinated veteran on hand.
If you act quickly enough, that is, to re-sign him.
"We are talking to some of our own guys," Colts general manager Chris Polian said. "We will not have the ability to retain all of our free agents. We will try to retain as many as we can, but I would not expect that to be 100 percent across the board."
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