The wildest spending spree in sports history is here. NBA free agency opened up June 30 at 6 p.m. ET and, since that time, over $3.5 billion of contracts have been handed out, with Kawhi Leonard still undecided at the time of this writing. While the NBA doesn’t have specific language for guaranteed deals in its contracts, this is money that every player will see, as teams always pay out their players.
Needless to say, NBA free agency dominates NFL free agency in almost every aspect.
There’s more money — more guaranteed money for sure — more player movement, super teams being created, players signing huge deals while being injured, and the poor Knicks. (Sorry, Knicks fans. Giannis Antetokounmpo will be a free agent soon. LOL.)
Even though the gap is wide now, the NFL isn’t far away from having NBA-type free agency periods. With a few tweaks, it can happen quickly.
1. Dump the franchise tag
The first change the NFL needs to make is eliminating the franchise tag. The franchise tag limits player movement. It’s a weapon ownership can use to keep players on a team for longer than their contracts, and it can force players into deals with their current team to avoid the one-year tag.
On a side note, players need to fight to get rid of the tag for the new collective bargaining agreement in 2021. I have no clue why we agreed to it in the last CBA. There’s almost no example I can think of where playing under a tag is better than hitting free agency. It’s not.
So dumping the tag would immediately open up player movement. You’d have young players in their prime heading to the open market — and at the top position in the sport, quarterback, that almost never happens.
2. Make one big change to the salary cap
Secondly, an adjustment to the salary cap structure is needed. The NFL has a hard salary cap. You’re not permitted to go above that number and that limits how much a player can make. The NBA has a soft cap with a luxury tax penalty if you’re over the cap. There’s even a repeater luxury tax for those teams who continue to go above that threshold.
But the NBA isn’t a free-for-all with a soft cap. It has max contract values set in advance, and even supermax contracts. These contracts give the home team an advantage, with more money being available by staying with the team that drafted you. This hasn’t seemed to stop players from moving teams, though.
So how do you fix the NFL salary cap to allow for more movement? The answer isn’t a soft cap. There are too many players and too many cheap owners, and there’d be even less parity. The answer is allowing one team to designate a single player’s salary to NOT count against the salary cap.
Most often, this player would be the quarterback and it would allow for an open market on that player. Let’s say Patrick Mahomes continues his tear until his five-year rookie contract with the Chiefs is finished. Without a franchise tag, Mahomes could land anywhere (even back with the Chiefs) but his number doesn’t count against the cap. How much does he make a season? $60 million? $70?
It would be out of control — and awesome for the NFL!
3. More guaranteed money, somehow
Third, the NFL guarantees in the contract would have to become more uniform. Players off their rookie contracts who are about to sign that monster second contract are going where the most money is. And by most money, it’s the most guaranteed money.
Fully guaranteeing contracts across the NFL isn’t practical due to the number of players, but making a more uniform policy toward guaranteed money would allow more teams to be in the bidding for an athlete.
And, quite frankly, I don’t even have a solution to this proposal. Because again, you’d have guys just sign with whichever team can offer the most guaranteed money. So you’d either have to cap the guarantees or only allow a certain percent. But the first step to making guaranteed money more uniform starts with players and their agents negotiating those deals, like Kirk Cousins did last offseason.
While the NFL owns the news cycle most of the year, the NBA controls this part of the calendar.
NBA free agency period is wild and all-consuming, and we love it! If the NFL wants to make its free agency more exciting, it can start with my suggestions above.