INDIANAPOLIS – NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith says the salary cap will rise to about $130 million in 2014 and addressed complaints about its slow growth Friday during his annual address to agents at the scouting combine.
But the union continues to stress patience and try to shift the conversation away from financial returns three seasons into a 10-year collective-bargaining agreement, focusing instead on issues such as players' transitions to careers after football.
"It's not to say that economics aren't important," Smith said. "The cap is going to be approximately 130 (million per team, up from $123 million in 2013). That's great. But we have a share-of-revenue deal. If revenues go up, so do players' shares of revenue. …
"Obviously, we hear the scuttlebutt and the critics about the new deal and looking at the 2009 cap – well, we touched on it briefly in there, but one of the big changes in this deal and one of the big issues for our player leadership while we were negotiating in a lockout was, don't have a myopic focus on the cap if you miss what the (cash) spend is."
The cap was a record $127.997 million in 2009, the last capped year under the old CBA. It dropped to $120.375 million in 2011, when 4½ months of business were lost to a lockout, then went to $120.6 million in 2012 and $123 million in 2013.
Critics point to the league's record revenues as evidence the cap should be rising much more quickly than that. The union counters the 2011 CBA emphasizes cash over cap spending on player salaries and benefits, which exceeded $10 billion over the first two years of the deal.
"We had a great small group meeting with agents yesterday and talked about the deal," Smith said. "We talked about the spends. We talked about transition. We talked about injuries. This is a player-led organization, not an agent-led organization, and for agents who have concerns, they're happy to express them, but I don't get elected by agents."
The union also held a session with a small group of reporters Friday to reiterate the structure of the 2011 deal, which gave them 55% of revenue from TV deals, 45% of revenue from league properties and 40% of local revenue.
The agreement includes spending minimums of 89% per team and 95% league-wide of the cap in cash over a four-year period from 2013 to '16 and from 2017 to '20, combating teams who regularly left their cap space unused under the old deal.
George Atallah, the NFLPA's assistant executive director of external affairs, said players' share of revenue dropped from 52.7% in 2006 to 50.6% in 2009 and 47.6% in the uncapped year of 2010, before the lockout began in March 2011.
"So what's really the cap?" Smith said. "I can tell you that, if you work for us, 'Hey, this year, we've increased the budget for your salary by 35%.' Are you happy? No. You want to know whether I'm going to spend 35% more on your salary than what I've budgeted for."
Friday's meeting with agents also was scheduled to include a presentation from NFLPA director of performance Mark Verstegen on optimizing career productivity, longevity and transition – key initiatives the union hopes agents can help the union push for years to come.
"The message is what the business of football is for our players, what it means for our union and for our agents," Smith said. "Economics is important, so obviously, we touch on it, but so is transition, so is medical care and so is worker's comp.
"We come here and it marks the transition of our players into football. Every now and then, people spend far more time on things like cap analysis, salary cap space, free agency, franchise tags – all those things have to do with transitioning into football or transitioning while you're in football.
"I think the challenge for our agent community and for everybody else is to apply that same rigor and discipline to transition for our players coming out of football."