To a 50 percent lesser degree, the Buffalo Bills are experiencing the same salary cap problems that currently plague the Jaguars. However, in Tom Donahoe's case, they are problems he didn't cause.
That fact makes dealing with the Bills' cap woes a lot easier. He has no attachments to the mistakes the previous Bills administration made. Donahoe, who was hired by Bills owner Ralph Wilson in January to be the team's new president, wears no egg on his face for the $19 million cap excess the Bills faced just two weeks ago.
"We had to release some players we would rather have kept. We would be a better football team if they were here, but we have to play by the rules," Donahoe told jaguars.com.
They are words that echo through the halls of Alltel Stadium. The Jaguars had to cut 15 players in 48 hours, and re-structure the contracts of their entire veteran roster, to extinguish $38 million of salary cap bulge by March 2. They did it and, just maybe, they learned their lesson.
"We're still not in good position because we only have 45 players under contract. We haven't even had a chance to think about what room we need to sign our draft class," Donahoe said.
Donahoe was hired following a one-year absence from the game, after being fired by the Pittsburgh Steelers in January of 2000 following a power struggle with head coach Bill Cowher.
Wilson needed a guy who knew personnel. That's Donahoe. Wilson needed a guy with respect for the salary cap. Again, that's Donahoe, on whom the Steelers' frugality forced Donahoe to rebuild the roster yearly.
If anyone knows the meaning of cap respect and its consequences, it's Donahoe. So, what is his plan to fix the Bills' cap problem?
"Just being patient. We'd like to think we corrected a lot of that this year. We held re-structuring to six (contracts) this year. We look at it as a two-year program to repair the cap," he said.
His are philosophies that also apply to the Jaguars. Read and commiserate; the Jaguars aren't the only team in the league facing cap recovery and regret.
"It's the same old story. When you think you have a good team, sometimes you do things without looking at the future. Eventually you hit the stage where you have to pay," Donahoe said of the cause of the Bills' problem. Apply it to the Jaguars, too.
"If you don't deal with it every day, eventually it'll get you. I always felt we did a good job dealing with the cap in Pittsburgh, and we will here, in time," Donahoe said.
His solution is very simple: Do it in the draft, the NFL's least expensive forum for player acquisition. It is also the league's most rewarding market.
"It's totally the key," Donahoe said of the draft, in which the Bills are scheduled this April for six of their own picks and a healthy collection of compensatory selections.
Beyond the draft, recovery will be slow because the Bills won't have the cap room necessary to acquire those diamond-in-the-rough players.
"The minimum salaries for rookies and veterans is way too high. It's priced them out of jobs. I'm talking about role players. Those guys are very, very valuable to your football team. Football is a game of numbers. It's nice to have a high-priced quarterback, but if you don't have depth you're not going to win," Donahoe said.
Sound familiar? Read Brant Boyer, Jamie Martin, Rich Griffith, etc.
Donahoe's plan to repair the Bills is to draft well and avoid contract re-structuring. The Jags didn't have that latter option, since they couldn't have made it under the cap without re-structuring.
"The difficulty I see anywhere that re-structures contracts is that all you're doing is pushing money into the future," he said.
How about a third ingredient to recovery: Avoid high-priced free agents? That goes without saying. In fact, the whole league would seem to be doing it this year.
"There are so many teams in the league in (cap) trouble that (free agency) has become pretty watered down. The only big deal is Marcellus Wiley," Donahoe said. "Teams are trying to be more sensible with their spending. There are some teams that kind of mortgaged their futures and they learned from that."
Buffalo's plan is for a two-year recovery period. The Jaguars will almost certainly require three years. Can they win while they're recovering?
"Yes," Donahoe said emphatically, "but you have to be willing to play young guys; you have to have great teachers on your staff. The emphasis goes to coaching; to being better prepared."