In the scientific world, there was no beginning; things always were, and thus, things evolved to be the way they are now. In the religious world, the Universe, which revolves around the Earth, began several thousand years ago, and a few days later God created people, who looked like Him, because He was lonesome.
Pro football has it's own versions of creation and evolution, except creation begins at different times for different people, and evolution is what happens to Americas Game afterward. For most of us, creation is when we first take interest in some team in the NFL. That team may be one we first watched on TV, or perhaps, a local team our father took us to see when we were young. For me, it was 1961 when I was in the Navy, right after I returned from a two year tour of duty in Japan. Back then, there wasn't a lot of NFL games shown on TV, and none in Japan.
At that time, I was living in El Paso (Cowboys broadcast area) and watched the first game of the year between the Cowboys and the Steelers--won by Dallas for the first win in their one-year history. I became a Dallas Cowboys fan that day; it didn't hurt that I had gone to high school in Mount Vernon for one semester with their backup quarterback.
Everything since, for me, has been evolution.
Although it began, as we know it now, in 1994, the seeds for the NFL salary cap were sown back during the time I was becoming interested in the early '60s. That was when the AFL and NFL's first mega-millionaires (a billion was real money back then) began buying expansion franchises, and supply-and-demand being what it is, competing with each other for the best players.
The straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, was the Packers signing free agent Reggie White in 1993. The NFL owners had long known that the key to their long-term financial success was a system that allowed all it's teams to compete on a relatively level playing field. But that level playing field could also be considered an antitrust violation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Even the NFLPA realized that what was best for its superstars was not best for their organization as a whole. Thus, a collective bargaining agreement between the players union and the NFL owners not only established an overall cap that each team could spend on players salaries, but insured that teams had a minimum number of players, minimum salaries based on service length, plus numerous other player rights issues; greed being what it is.
The first salary cap was quite simple: take the agreed percentage of league profits, divide it equally amongst all thirty-two teams, and let the GMs use it as they saw fit to obtain the best team they could put on the field for their fans. And it worked--for a little while. Then in 1994, all hell broke loose. This article from the LA Times describes the art of restructured contracts: the 49ers GM, Carmen Policy, had figured out how to do what his fellow GMs had not. At the heart of his ability to work around the cap was, if a team had plenty of cash, simply to pay a large bonus up front to satisfy the player and his agent, then, work around the current cap constraints by restructuring other players contracts, thereby adding additional years onto their deals. And why would the existing players go along? Quite simple: they would get another bonus up front. Everyone wins! Well, almost:
Count Dallas owner Jerry Jones among those who don't like the 49ers' way of doing business.
He doesn't think the 49ers are cheating. He just thinks they're being short-sighted by giving some players incentive-laden contracts with low base pay.
But Jerry certainly got over it, didn't he.