The Birth of a Capologist
My road to Russell Street really started in the late 1970’s when as a child I watched the exploits of the mid-70’s Colts lead by Bert Jones, Lydell Mitchell and the Sack Pack. Perhaps it was my young age or just the style of play in the NFL at that time (or just my aging brain), but those times and the game of football seemed much simpler.
Of course, there was nothing simple about the Colts moving to Indianapolis several years later.
From there, the NFL wasn’t really much on my radar, save the yearly parties that accompanied watching the Super Bowl.
Then, in 1996, the Ravens arrived in Baltimore and played their first game. This seemed like a whole new world. The players were bigger, stronger and the game seemed much faster.
There was also this strange thing called the “Salary Cap”.
Most teams’ fans were already well aware of the Salary Cap, which was introduced by the league’s 1993 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). But, to Baltimore fans, it was an entirely new concept, since the last time we had a football team, there was no such thing.
The Baltimore media (The Sun, mostly) apparently didn’t have much of an understanding of it either and, for the most part, didn’t seem interested in figuring it out or trying to explain it to their readers.
So, Ravens fans were treated to the news that star WR Andre Rison (1996) and defensive stalwarts Linebacker Pepper Johnson (1996) and Safety Eric Turner (1997) were released “for salary cap reasons”, but were given no real explanation of what that really meant.
Or, how the Ravens waited until after June 1st in 1998 to release QB Vinny Testaverde because it was beneficial to their Salary Cap to do so.
We also heard late in the team’s first season in Baltimore, that the team “didn’t have enough money to pay” to fill out open spots on their Practice Squad. Man, that really sounds awful and embarrassing – my team is broke – but what wasn’t reported was that it wasn’t a cash issue at all. It was a Salary Cap issue. The team had the cash. They simply didn’t have any remaining Cap space to add anyone.
That’s a totally different story then, but no one in the media seemed to care enough to determine what the issue was or report on it.
Then, after the euphoria of the 2000 Super Bowl winning season and the Ravens attempt to keep the roster intact for one more run in 2001, came the “salary cap purge” of 2002.
Again, other than saying that the team was “over the Salary Cap”, there was no explanation from The Sun of how and why that happened.
It was at that point that I became determined to learn about the Salary Cap to be able to understand what was going on.
Funny thing is, math was never really my strong suit!
My research helped me get a better understanding of the Salary Cap and just what caused the necessity of the 2002 Cap purge. Interestingly enough, while most point to the team’s decision to max out their Cap in 2001 to try and repeat as Super Bowl Champs, their Cap problems were rooted in decisions made much earlier.
The Cleveland Browns’ decision to sign Rison (and the Ravens’ decision to cut him a year later) and the Cap issues that already existed when the team arrived in Baltimore were at the root of the purge. As it turned out, during those early, bad years of football (1996-1998), the team was constantly restructuring deals to stay under the Cap and create enough space to make a few signings (Michael McCrary, Tony Siragusa, to name a few). And, as we’ve since learned, constant restructuring of contracts means the piper will likely come calling at some point.
Then, in 2001, the Ravens doubled down on the restructuring to try and get Mr. Modell another Super Bowl victory.
Those early years were tough, though, because Salary Cap and contract information was not very easy to find. I’d scour the web trying to find information. With what I could cobble together, I would create spreadsheets to estimate where the team was with the Salary Cap.
Once I felt comfortable enough with my understanding of the Salary Cap, I started posting Cap previews and reports on message boards that I frequented. The staff at The Sun still didn’t seem to care much and often wasn’t able to accurately articulate Cap-related reports.
Sometimes they were just down right wrong!
Over time, I guess I sort of built up a bit of a following. First, there was the Deja newsgroup, alt.sports.football.pro.baltimore, and then various other message boards over the years – RavensAddicts, RavensNest2, Sunspot, RavensInsider/Scout just to name a few. That ultimately lead me to the Ravens24x7 message board in 2006. That board just celebrated its 10th anniversary earlier this month, and it was from there that Russell Street Report’s founder, Tony Lombardi, plucked me.
It was around that same time that I found a Yahoo Group called “AMCAP”, which was made up of a group of other fans dedicated to understanding and dissecting their team’s Salary Cap. I learned so much about the intricacies of the Cap from the discussions in that group and owe a lot to those other very knowledgeable “amateur capologists” (AMCAP). With the advent of Twitter that group has gone silent, but most of that group is still around and continues to discuss Cap-related issues on Twitter.
More recently, Cap information has become much more readily available, especially when Aaron Wilson arrived on the scene and finally gave The Sun a voice that paid attention to Salary Cap-related issues. Aaron has since move to Houston, but Jeff Zrebiec has continued that eye to detail.
The NFLPA also now posts daily updates to the Cap. Those updates are generally a few days behind, but are a great resource to verify my numbers. In the meantime, when a new signing occurs, I endeavor to quickly put together a contract breakdown based on the reported details of the contract. I must admit to being pretty obsessive about my accuracy and will at times spend too much time attempting to figure out any discrepancy (no matter how small). Most often now, though, I’m pretty close to having it down to the penny.
Writing for Russell Street Report also gets me on 105.7 and WBAL a dozen or so times a year. I was certainly nervous the first couple of times, but the hosts have always been great and have made it a lot of fun. It’s also fun to get a text or have someone bring up that they heard me on the radio and had no idea I do what I do!
This coming January will mark the 10th anniversary of my first Salary Cap article for Ravens24x7/Russell Street Report and I must say it’s been a total blast. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to write with, hang out with and become friends with a lot of great Ravens fans who share their passion for their favorite team on this great website. There’s nothing better than talking with other knowledgeable, passionate fans.
So, having now been on Russell Street for 10 years, all I can really say is ………….. here’s to (at least) 10 more years on Russell Street – Cheers!