Few things are more disparaging for NFL fans than seeing their favorite players leave their favorite team. Especially if the player has been in the organization for several years. Fans grow family-like bonds to players who toil for their teams year in and year out. The players become folk heroes, lauded for their accomplishments both on the gridiron and in the community. Then, one off-season, as if the moments meant nothing, they are gone. Released. Cut. Terminated.
This offseason, former Pittsburgh Steeler Joey Porter and New Orleans Saint Joe Horn have been among the many long-time veterans shown the door by the teams on which they achieved their first taste of fame. Porter and Horn are far from alone. In seasons past, the NFL salary cap has shown no favorites, as famous cap casualties have included former Tampa Bay Buc John Lynch and Hall of Fame-bound former Buffalo Bill Thurman Thomas. Even the great Jerry Rice was made to sing the salary cap blues.
Since nobody wins when famous players are told to pack their bags, I have an idea that might reduce these draconian releasings, promote team loyalty, decrease the incentive to shed veteran players, and increase fan appreciation. The NFL should institute a gradually increasing loyalty discount that would reduce the amount a player's contract weighs on the salary cap. This discount would only be applicable to players with continuous service to the same team for a predetermined amount of years and would cease in an individual case when the player left the team.
To simplify: if the NFL sets the tenured discount limit at 6 years, in the 7th year a player spends with the same team, his salary would only count 90% against the salary cap. In year eight 80% against the cap, year nine 70%, year 10 60%, etc., etc. Using this case, by the time the player spends his 16th year with the same franchise, his salary will count 0% against the cap. This measure will assuredly increase a team's desire to keep its players and in turn will increase fan loyalty to the players, as they will become mainstays on the team and hopefully in the communities as well.
In order to see the effects of this proposal, let's look at the salaries of the 2006 Indianapolis Colts, who of course have an interest in bringing back all the key components of their recent Super Bowl winning team. Using the loyalty discount, only half of WR Marvin Harrison's 8 million dollar salary would count against the cap. Comparatively, all of tackle Ryan Diem's 7 million dollar salary would count, as Diem had only been in the league six years. As for Payton Manning, with his salary almost all bonus money, only 70% of his $668,520 yearly salary would count against the salary cap.
Although I don't think it is the end-all, be-all of salary cap solutions, the NFL and its organizations would have a lot to gain and very little to lose by instituting a loyalty discount. Perhaps with this idea we can avoid the embarrassment of seeing great players in jerseys unbecoming of their legacy.