The NFL's salary cap is always a hard thing to grasp

Rick Stewart

There are things in various sports that I simply don't understand. When it comes to the NFL, while I understand most things on the field, the salary cap and financial maneuverings of teams trying to get in compliance with it, is something that is always out of my reach.

There are certain things from each sport in our great country that I simply don't understand.

For example, what is offsides in hockey? No matter how many times it's explained to me, I can't seem to grasp the concept, and I often wonder why a five yard penalty isn't enforced against the team that commits it.

When it comes to baseball, I really don't understand why sabermetrics, including stats like WAR (Wins Above Replacement) are important, but there are those who swear by such statistical measurements and base every decision and most projections on them.

In basketball, I understand what traveling and palming are, but what I don't understand is why both aren't called on EVERY play.

Now that brings me to my favorite sport--football. I understand most things about the game that I need to, such as rules and strategy. When it comes to evaluating players, while I may not know how to "breakdown film," as they say, I can usually tell the difference between a good player and an average or bad one. (Do they use the WAR statistic for football players? If they do, I'm switching to soccer.)

Anyway, what I've never fully understood about football, specifically the NFL, is the salary cap. Much like offsides in hockey, when someone tries to explain it to me, I politely and respectfully nod my head affirmatively, but it's only because I'm ashamed at my ignorance and don't want to be exposed any further.

As a football writer, I feel as if I should know a little about the salary cap, if only because the Steelers financial maneuverings the past three offseasons have made for a lot of headline material.

I try to get as much advice on the subject as I can from fellow fans, but the opinions and theories vary so greatly, it's hard to know which end is up.

For instance, on Monday, Pittsburgh placed the transitional tag on free agent linebacker Jason Worilds. After this fact came to light, half the fans thought this guaranteed Worilds would be a Steeler next season. Others, such as Yours truly, actually understood it correctly to mean the team would have a window of first refusal of any offer that would come Worilds' way.

I was happy with my accurate understanding, as I smugly paraded around my living room. (Nobody saw me, so that was stupid.)

I also accurately understood that there would be no compensation if Worilds would actually leave for another team. But what I didn't understand was why in the world he would actually sign the tender, which he did on Tuesday.

"Doesn't Worilds want to test the market?" I wondered out loud after it became official that No. 93 would be guaranteed to make the $9.754 million that came with the transitional tag.

I know nearly $10 million for a single season is great work if you can find it, but these athletes, well, they're always talking about security. And by "security" I mean getting the biggest, fattest contract they possibly can. Much like a kid who can't help but sneak a peek at his Christmas presents, most professional athletes must satisfy the curiosity of knowing just how much teams would be willing to fork over to them once they hit the free agent market.

"If Pittsburgh is willing to pay me $9.754 million, maybe the Jaguars, Browns or Raiders will offer me much, much more!"

Yeah, I know those teams suck, but there's no accounting for taste when in search of "security."

I guess it's commendable that Worilds "settled" for the money he'll be making next season, while he sweats out the real life-long security that would come with a multi-year contract that he and the team are reportedly striving for.

When it comes to that kind of stuff, I get it. No, really, I sort of do.

What I don't ever usually understand is how they make these financial moves work under the constraints of an annoying salary cap.

As every fan is now fully aware of (or at least should be), Pittsburgh isn't in cap compliance, and really hasn't been since long before Brett Keisel started growing his beard the first time.

Speaking of Keisel, as an unrestricted free agent in the very latter stages of his career, he may unfortunately be the latest casualty in the Steelers perpetual attempt to get "under the cap," as was Larry Foote, who was released on Wednesday, along with Levi and Curtis Brown. Those moves shaved nearly $9 million off the books (at least I think so), but still leave the team reportedly $3 million over the cap, as of this writing.

With those kinds of troubles still on the books, and with the huge financial commitment just made to Worilds, it obviously means LaMarr Woodley, the big money linebacker who hasn't been earning his keep in recent years, must also go, right?

That's a view shared by me and several other Steelers fans. However, for every fan who feels there is no way both Woodley and Worilds can possibly be on the 2014 roster, there are at least a handful of fans with the apparent financial acumen to boldly claim both can stay on the roster, as well as Keisel, Ike Taylor and Nnami Asomugha, who will be lured out of retirement in time for the start of the regular season.

How's it possible? I don't know, but again, I never claimed to know such things--at least not until the light bulb went on in my head the other day.

You see, I was writing out my weekly (yes weekly) bills when it occurred to me that I use pretty much the same creative financing the Steelers use every February and March.

Much like Pittsburgh, my salary is very much capped, so I often find myself creatively finding ways to budget my money and still have a good time.

For example, I had an allotted amount of money that I wanted to pay toward my credit card bill this month ($180), but I also just joined a local gym two weeks ago. A monthly gym membership is $34.99, which is fine. However, when a person first joins this particular gym, he or she must also pay an initiation fee of  $99. (What is a gym initiation, anyway? Do buff trainers throw slices of pizza at you while forcing you to do burpees?)

I digress.

I wanted to pay my credit card bill, but since I wasn't disciplined enough to say no to joining a gym, I had to come up with a plan. Therefore, after some time trying to figure out how to keep the same budget, I hit upon it. I would send my credit card company $100 this month, which would offset (kind of) the $99 initiation fee I had to pay for my gym membership.

Another example would be my electric bill, which I assumed about be in the $90 range this month. Unfortunately, since it's been cold for just about ever, the latest bill is actually $114. Since my original budget planned for a $90 electric bill, I had hoped to pay $50 toward my other credit card (I know, irresponsible). Again, this called for creative financing, and I only sent $25 to the other credit card company. While this will ultimately hurt me in the future, I still paid the same budgeted amount for both bills ($139) and will worry about the credit card when I have to.

Does this all sound familiar, Steelers fans? It should.

On Wednesday, it was announced that both Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller had their contracts extended into the 2016 season. However, while both players will still be making the same amount of money they were supposed to make next season, the hit on Pittsburgh's 2014 salary cap will be lessened, and pushed down the road, not be a burden February and the one after that and the one after that and............

I get it now. The Steelers are just like me! Only, unlike the Steelers (and Jason Worilds), I may never realize my dream of someday making $10 million.

Now if  I can only grasp the concept of offsides in hockey.

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