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This expansion draft is backwards


Expansion draft pools will be submitted next week by 31 teams who, in any other year, would be attempting to protect their star players. But this expansion draft is unlike any other in NFL history. This expansion draft almost requires reverse thinking to understand.

The Houston Texans may select 30-42 players from the list of 155 players who will be made available by the NFL's other 31 teams. That means each team will be required to put five names into a player pool next week.

So, what will those teams do? Take the bottom five names from their roster and make those players available to the Texans? After all, that's the way it was for the Bucs and Seahawks in 1976, for the Jaguars and Panthers in '95, and for the Browns in '99.

It won't be that way for the Texans.

Instead of selecting from a list of minimum-wage, no-name players, the Texans will be confronted by some of the biggest names and most ridiculous contracts the league has to offer. If they were so inclined, the Texans could probably assemble an expansion-draft roster of Pro-Bowlers. But they are not so inclined.

This expansion draft will be forever remembered as the "Great Salary Cap Escape." This will be 31 teams' opportunity to dump their worst contracts and their most crippling bonus amortizations. In the Jaguars' case, most speculate Tony Brackens will be made available to the Texans, since Brackens leads the Jaguars with more than $9 million of remaining amortization. The Jaguars, of course, are facing dramatic salary cap problems and, if the Texans were to draft Brackens, they would have to assume his remaining amortization, which would immediately restore the Jaguars' salary cap to manageability.

Not so fast. Houston GM Charley Casserly has suggested this may become the shortest expansion draft in history, that he may only take four or five players whose contracts would satisfy the requirement that 38 percent of the Texans' salary cap must be invested in expansion draft players. After all, why take a whole bunch of bad contracts when a mere four or five will suffice?

Again, everything about this expansion draft is convoluted. For example, the NFL has instituted a "spiked contracts" restriction. The rule reads that a team may include in its expansion draft pool only two players whose 2002 salary cap number and cash value is each 75 percent greater than those of 2001. The idea is to keep teams from protecting players it wants to keep by inflating their contracts and, thus, making them unattractive to the Texans.

No problem. In this expansion draft, teams won't be trying to protect their star players; they'll be trying to get the Texans to take a couple. Five players? Some teams would like to submit 10 names. After all, everyone wants to clear their cap by pawning their mistakes off on the Texans.

Meanwhile, indications are the Texans view this expansion draft as a necessary evil. They really don't want the bad contracts (who does?), but it would be very difficult for the Texans to reach the salary cap minimum without a few of these bad deals on their roster.

So, stay away from the players with the bad contracts and stick to those few from the bottom of teams' rosters who have developmental talent? Well, the Jaguars selected 31 players from the '95 expansion draft pool, and Willie Jackson, Dave Thomas and Brant Boyer were the only players who provided any kind of long-term contribution.

The fact of the matter is that a team doesn't build its roster from a pool of players the competition doesn't want. In this expansion draft, the Texans aren't being stocked as much as a few fortunate teams may be relieved of their mistakes.

It's all in reverse, causing the rules to appear convoluted. This expansion draft may only serve to prove how badly the rest of the league's teams have managed their salary caps since the '95 expansion draft, when teams were still attempting to protect their star players.

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