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Making a case for uncapped salaries

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Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Professional athletes are underpaid, and that’s true, no matter how much money Ndamukong Suh received from the Miami Dolphins this offseason. In a free market economy, salaries are driven by the law of supply and demand. If two or more, teams are interested in signing a highly talented defensive tackle like Suh, they should be able to offer as much as they’d like or, if they are really willing to get his services, as much as it takes to beat the next best offer; especially when the NFL is making more money than ever.

Some could say NFL franchises can give any player all the millions they want, but that’s not the truth. The truth is, football salaries are capped – in this case even hard capped. There is only so much money teams can offer to the 53 players who ultimately make the team. Nobody is crazy enough to compromise half their team’s salary cap to one player only to realize the lack of depth that would create elsewhere. But, salary caps aren’t good for players, teams, or cities.

The Dallas Cowboys struggled to pay Dez Bryant what most pundits and fans think he deserves because of all their cap money already tied to other players on their team. But Jerry Jones has as deep pockets as anybody and the Cowboys’ franchise is the fifth most valuable sports team in the entire world, playing in one of the biggest markets in the country. How does it make sense that the Cowboys cannot sign the players they'd like to sign if they can pay them? After all, America is the land where, if you are wealthy enough you can buy anything.

The NFL avoids allowing this because it considers it impossible for small market teams like our own Bengals to compete against these giants if they don't have the same tools. So they are actually taking money out of Jerry Jones' pockets so poor guys like Mike Brown can afford their own cars. Try to sell this logic to the average tax paying American citizen.

Mike Brown is not actually poor, but professional sports teams often rely on the strategy of crying poverty to force cities and players to surrender money so these – in most cases – billionaires can maintain their teams. So they do, with great help from the NFL, who is happy to comply if there is a good case for money to be made. Build a new stadium or you are doomed.

As a public officer you must choose: make use of municipal bonds in order to build roads, hospitals, schools or something everybody would benefit from, or just spend $200 million on constructing a new flashy stadium, for a rich owner who wants you to believe he can't afford it. And of course the team NEEDS that new infrastructure to survive, otherwise it will need to move just 20-30 years after the same city had built them that venue – by the way, I have been to 100-year-old stadiums in England and they are AWESOME.

The world is far from being equal, and professional competition is the same. There are big markets with the ability to host two powerhouses in multiple sports, and smaller ones that struggle to sustain a couple of franchises. But players, cities and fans alike shouldn’t take on this burden. It is a problem the NFL and NBA have. They have their own private business where the executives want teams to have the same chances to succeed, or at least more or less the same chance to succeed. So they cap the players' salaries and sell this idea: if every team has the same amount of money available they will all have a chance to compete. But, again, that is not true.

Players should make what the free market wants to pay them, the same way a flight price should not be fixed by an oligarchy – if Delta, Southwest and American Airlines setting up their prices looks horrible to you, then 32 billionaires capping professional athletes’ salaries should too. This cartel that works as the president of the NBPA, Michelle Roberts says, in a very "unAmerican" way, should let crazy owners spend as much as they like in order to get an edge and go for a championship. And, they should also allow cheap owners from smaller markets to spend less money in order to adjust to what that franchise can make in a place like Charlotte, Richmond, Cincinnati or Boise.

This way not only players would benefit, but also teams and fans. There is still the draft and of course there are still many free agents who would leave money on the table to sign somewhere where there is a plan and a good structure. Baseball is a good example of how uncapped budgets perform. Or football in Europe, when for any crazy Arab or Russian owner with big influx or euros and pounds available, there are always better run teams that ultimately succeed.

Fans in Jacksonville or Tampa should not be expecting their teams to be as profitable as those of New York or Los Angeles. Then it’s fair that they should not be expecting them to need flashy state of art venues every 15 years or concession prices as high. The trade-off would be better run – no way this works with poor management, of course – small teams that succeed with their own tools, not money coming from their competitors. And in opposition of baseball, football is just a 16 game long season , which makes it easier for more teams to find that lucky streak that takes them to the top.

There is also the manner of how the cap limits what small teams can do if they finally build the right team. The Bengals have been building a nice young core taking advantage of rookie contracts, and if they see a window where they feel comfortable with spending more in order to field the best possible team... why can’t they be allowed to do so? They have to let some players go eventually, diminishing their chances to compete. That assuming, of course, that the Brown family would consider investing big on their players if they are confident this is the group that can get them a Super Bowl. Going over that cap to sign a couple of expensive free agents to get that edge should be a possibility as well.

There is a good argument that small market teams don't get much help from this system. You could argue that, this way, many teams would go Philadelphia Sixers mode all the way – and they have made good profit during the past few seasons, but it can be avoided. Instead of sharing TV contracts equally, give bonuses to teams when they win games, division titles or make it to the playoffs. And if a team, say, the Jaguars, wants to tank they will have to spend actual money on that. You could argue as well that every single good free agent would like to join the richest teams, but that is not 100 percent true and is not a very bad thing either. Many players have other motivations besides money, which a smaller city team like the Packers could satisfy. And no star offensive tackle is going to Dallas to be a backup. The shortage of starting caliber quarterback would be the same; and I can keep going.

I am not optimistic the NFL would ever consider doing this because their ways are what allow them to get players, cities and fans to surrender huge amounts of money from their pockets and they could also use this as means to get rid of minimum contracts but I think it would give us a healthier competition for all.