We've got some 'splainin to do. The commonly held belief by most of us who got a drive-by understanding of the new NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement came with one important factoid that we've been hanging on to for this free agency period. Simply put, the league has a salary cap floor written into the language that says a team -- like the Chiefs -- have to spend a certain amount every season. The problem is that it doesn't apply quite yet.
In our haste to get to real action and break things down into bullet points, what has been lost is the reality that the "salary cap floor", as it is being called, doesn't come into effect until 2013. The item we're familiar with states that a team must spend 89 percent of the salary cap. I've even seen figures like 90 or even 98 percent. Either way, some teams like the Bengals and Chiefs and Buccaneers had to step it up and sign players for millions that they might not have otherwise spent. But the language in the new deal says we still have two full NFL seasons before that comes into effect.
Where the confusion comes in is between the total NFL salary cap floor and each team's portion of the cap. The NFL must spend 99 percent of the total salary cap floor in the next two seasons until the individual team caps come in. What's the difference? After all, if you add up each team's salary cap, isn't that the total? Well, yes and no. The difference comes in the bonuses being handed out that don't exactly count against the cap.
Santonio Holmes just received a monster contract from the New York Jets to the tune of $50 million over five seasons. He will receive a $1 million base salary (total count against salary cap) alongside a $7 million signing bonus. Thus, the total amount against the NFL salary floor is $8 million but due to weird financial creativity beyond my understanding, he will only count $2.45 million against the Jets' cap. This is why they pay economic geniuses to run these things.
The bottom line to understand is that what a team gives a player doesn't equal what counts against the cap -- and this means the total spending should still hit 99 percent of the NFL salary cap floor, even if the Chiefs remain at 70 percent or so. And even if the NFL doesn't make it to the 99 percent level, the league just owes that to the new players' union. The Chiefs, in other words, have no incentive to "spend just to spend" until 2013.
This means that Scott Pioli will act like Scott Pioli in 2011 and 2012. Up until that point, he will be guiding the Chiefs roster to spend at the level at the appropriate times. And that can either be a good thing or bad thing in your eyes, depending on whether or not you wanted the Chiefs to pour millions into the free agent market just to do so. Some teams, like the Panthers, have resigned several players, extended others, traded for some and brought in new free agents. Others, like the Chiefs, have picked up a couple, resigned a couple, but still have a lot of question marks.
The bottom line is that there's no formula to this. The Bengals are frugal and have a pitiful outlook. The Ravens haven't done a thing in free agency and no one panics with Ozzie Newsome at the helm. The Panthers and Redskins throw money around everywhere, but so do the New York Jets. The good and the bad live in both categories, so it comes down to the single architect behind it all. In Pioli We Trust.