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The Dez Deal Is Done, But Ripples Spread Though The NFL

People are burned out on the multiple discussions of Dez Bryant's new contract with the Dallas Cowboys, but it was part of some trends that will be reverberating for years.

All about the Benjamins
All about the Benjamins
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

This is not another analysis of the Dez Bryant contract. While it was very important to the Dallas Cowboys, it was also a part of some bigger things. Nothing in the NFL happens in a vacuum. The deal was both driven by issues beyond one player and his team, and will affect further developments for at least half a decade to come.

Obviously contracts continue to get larger as the salary cap increases while the talent pool still remains about the same in terms of quality. Supply and demand alone puts pressure to bid up the value of star players. One thing that was discernible from the three big contracts that were signed before the deadline for franchise tagged players is that cap management is becoming even more important as time goes on. While the greatest attention was paid to the Bryant and Demaryius Thomas deals that happened in rapid succession with less than an hour to go, the one that really showed how poor handling of the cap can force a team's hand was the $101 million deal given by the Kansas City Chiefs to linebacker Justin Houston. Dallas and the Denver Broncos were able to wait and maneuver into the final hour because they both would have been able to pay their players on the franchise tag without being in trouble under the cap. KC was not in that position.

Houston's contract is likely a byproduct of the Chiefs poor cap situation, which, as of this morning, saw them with only $500,000 in cap space with Houston playing on the franchise tag. The Chiefs desperately needed cap relief which likely fueled the contract. Houston was able to convince the Chiefs that he is a transcendent player for his position, similar to Watt. The prior high watermark for an outside linebacker was Clay Matthews at $13.2 million, a number Houston shattered.

There was a lot of discussion as to just how much leverage both Bryant and Thomas had or did not have in getting their deals, but Houston had a lot because of the tight situation the Chiefs had gotten into. Where the deals in Dallas and Denver can be seen as at least a minor correction for the Calvin Johnson deal with the Lions, widely perceived as having been higher than it needed to be, Houston's is clearly pushing the price for his position higher. Kansas City's errors will impact other teams in years to come.

All three of the deals include "real" guarantees of over $30 million. Guaranteed money has been the big issue for players for some time now, and is a continuing sore spot for the NFLPA. It is just one point of contention that is almost certainly going to lead to acrimonious negotiations over the next CBA. Although it is impossible to predict just what stance the player's association will take on the matter, one thing they should fight for is a way to get at least some of the guaranteed money out from under the salary cap.

The owners, or at least a large part of them, are likely to fight this tooth and nail, but under the current rules the teams have tremendous advantages in not having to pay out the full value of the deals they sign players to. It makes the players much more of a disposable resource once the guaranteed money is paid and largely accounted for under the bizarre math of the cap. Those players have relatively few years of productive play and risk their health every time they step on the field. The fight for higher guarantees is justified and will likely become more of a focus as time goes on. With the way total revenues continue to grow, the reluctance of many owners to share more of the pie is not defensible. We don't watch the games to see shots of the owners sitting in their luxury boxes or buy button down shirts with their names embroidered on them. While it is true that to a great degree we root for laundry, you have to have talented men wearing those uniforms to keep people paying the ever-increasing prices for tickets, parking fees, concessions and merchandise, and most importantly to keep the ratings that drive the huge deals for broadcasting and cable rights. With mounting evidence of the life-long problems resulting from concussions and other injuries,  those huge profits for the owners look more and more like blood money. The league needs to go hard at swinging the pendulum back towards the players, and better guarantees for superstars and scrubs alike needs to be a big part of that.

The need to maintain parity is likely an unshakable tenet for the league. That will mean that the salary cap will continue in some form. As long as the total revenues continue to increase and drive that cap higher, the smart thing for teams to do is going to be getting players locked up earlier rather than later. When the Dallas Cowboys gave Tony Romo his $108 million contract extension, it was widely derided as too much, but with Russell Wilson now talking about wanting to be paid $25 million a year, having Romo locked up under that deal looks financially prudent. Giving out money in the short term can wind up saving a team from having to pay even more later. Smart teams will identify their value players and get them extended, and let the ones walk that are not of sufficient future value for the money they demand. That in a nutshell is why Dez Bryant is a Cowboy and DeMarco Murray isn't.

The NFL has five more years of labor "peace", and then it is going to get ugly. In the meantime, smart players will get as much money as they can and smart teams will figure out who to give those dollars to. Bad decisions by some franchises will hurt everyone. Dallas and Denver did a good job with the franchise tag. Kansas City, not so much. It isn't just about your own team.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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