There was no proclamation – no sirens, whistles, gunshots or cheers – but at some point following the conclusion of last season, the Jaguars' salary cap ceased to be a problem. Yes, the Jaguars' repair efforts are complete, which means the nuances of the NFL's salary cap system no longer need to dominate our every conversation.
"Salary Cap 102?" Not necessary.
Dead money? Don't worry about it.
Remaining amortization? Hey, isn't that redundant, anyhow?
It's fixed, folks. The suffering is over. The credit card debt is all but gone. Yeah, there are a couple of big bills comin' up, but they won't be a problem.
They won't be a problem because this team won't do the things it used to do to avoid paying the bill. These Jaguars manage their salary cap responsibly. These Jaguars don't give away signing bonuses as though they're trying to buy "Boardwalk."
Consider these facts from the current free agency period:
After signing Juran Bolden to a contract yesterday, the Jaguars have spent $6.75 million in signing bonus money on eight unrestricted free agents (Todd Yoder, Tommy Hendricks, Mike Compton, Lewis Sanders, Dewayne Washington, Deon Grant, Greg Favors and Bolden). Compare that total to the $7 million signing bonus Fernando Bryant got from the Detroit Lions.
Add the signing bonus money paid to Chris Hanson, Paul Spicer, Sammy Williams and Joe Zelenka and the Jaguars have spent $9.1 million for 12 players. Bryant will earn another $2 million in roster bonus and salary this year, which takes his total 2004 take to $9 million.
Following the 1999 season, the Jaguars cut a Bryant-like deal with another cornerback, Aaron Beasley. Two years later, the Jaguars cut Beasley and ate his staggering amortization. Those were the old Jaguars.
Nothing kills a team's salary-cap future as guaranteed money does. It's almost as though the moment a player gets a contract loaded with guaranteed money, he becomes a bad player; not always, but often, and it only takes a couple of those mistakes to cripple a team's cap.
These days, the Jaguars are doing everything to avoid that potential. In many cases, they're building protections into the deals they sign. In other cases, they've learned to curb their interest. You know, the best exercise for losing weight is pushing away from the table.
Take a look at the Bolden deal. Bolden got a $600,000 signing bonus on a five-year contract. That means the yearly amortization is a minimal $120,000, which is real good for the team, and if Bolden turns out not to be the player the Jaguars think he can be, the team can get out of the deal and not get killed by dead money. That's the Jaguars' protection in the contract.
Bolden is protected by a $3 million option bonus that must be exercised in March of 2006. After two seasons, the Jaguars must make a decision on Bolden. If he turns out to be a home-run player, the Jaguars can retain Bolden by paying him a $3 million bonus. His salaries over the following three seasons would average out at $2 million a year, so, including the option bonus amortization, the Jaguars would get a home-run cornerback at the average of $3 million a year, and Bolden would get the kind of money about which he had always dreamed.
Put it all together, folks, and what we're talking about is the New England Patriots' model for roster-building and salary cap maintenance: low-cost and prudent personnel additions that provide for the present and protect the future. Of course, everything hinges on those personnel moves being prudent. Low-cost doesn't guarantee success any more than overspending does.
And therein lies the game within the game. Some of you will say, yeah, that's the way to do it. And some of you will say, nah, these players are "just guys," and you can't win championships with "just guys."
Where do you stand?