The Lucrative NFL Business Model

Once again the NFL has demonstrated that it has the best business model in all of professional sports. Not only is the NFL America’s most popular sport, worthy of television contracts that give each team $330 million annually, but it has a salary cap of $133 million this year, and player contracts are not guaranteed.

All of these factors create a scenario in which some of the best players in the league are released because they were due to make too much money and had too large a cap number. Take Tampa Bay cornerback Darrelle Revis, for example. He is considered as good a cover corner as there is in the league. He has size, speed, quickness and uncanny instincts.

So why would Tampa Bay cut him? Very simple, really. Revis was going to make $16 million this year, and his cap number was $18 million. The new brain trust of head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht decided that was too much money, even for one of the best defensive players in football. After telling reporters that the Tampa schemes can use any talented player to fit right in, Smith got to the real reason: “And as far as the money, yeah, there’s only a certain amount – and as you look at what we were able to get – three very good football players, almost for the price of one.”

Don’t feel too sorry for Revis. He was unemployed for roughly four hours before he signed a one-year, $12-million deal with the New England Patriots.

Then consider the situation with DeMarcus Ware and the Dallas Cowboys. Ware is a seven-time Pro Bowler, and when healthy as he is now, is as good a pass rusher as anyone in the league. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gushed about Ware, calling him a cornerstone of the franchise.

“DeMarcus Ware,” said Jones, “through his performance on the field and his outstanding character, is someone who is held in the highest regard within the Dallas Cowboy family.”

Shortly thereafter, Jones released him.

Again this was all about the Benjamins. Ware was going to count $16 million against the salary cap and receive about $14 million in salary. Apparently too steep a price for your high-character, outstanding performing cornerstone. And Ware wasn’t without a job much longer than Revis. He signed a three-year, $30-million contract ($20 million guaranteed) with the Denver Broncos a couple of days after his release.

If you have a big payday coming in the NFL with a high cap number, you very likely will be looking for work. If you are younger and cheaper, you will be in great demand.

The one exception appears to be quarterbacks. Of the 17 players who have cap numbers over $15 million and have not been released, 10 are quarterbacks. In terms of improving your team through free agency, the Denver Broncos have gone all in. After being trounced by the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl, Denver has added not only DeMarcus Ware, but cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward.

Give Broncos executive vice president John Elway some credit. He recognizes that the Broncos’ problems are on one side of the ball, and he was aggressive in shoring up his ailing defense. But the three aforementioned Bronco signees are contracted for a total of 13 years. It’s a good bet they don’t play more than an aggregate eight years before suffering the same fate as many others, and for the same reason. It’s especially perilous for cornerbacks. Four of them had contracts averaging $10 million last year, and three of them – Darnelle Revis, Champ Bailey and Cortland Finnegan – were handed their walking papers last week.

But even with all the player movement, one thing is certain. Every NFL owner will need a very large Brinks truck to haul around their money, whether their team is a Super Bowl contender or a bottom dweller. Now that’s a business model!