Goodbye to York and Davis?
by Glenn Dickey
Jan 09, 2006

THE NFL salary cap may go away this year which would be bad news for both the 49ers and Raiders. But, there’s a silver lining: This may be our chance to get rid of one or both of the two worst owners in the NFL, John York and Al Davis.

The salary cap was originally installed because there was something for both sides. The owners got fixed costs, so they wouldn’t have the ups and downs of baseball teams, for instance. The players got free agency, so they could market themselves in their prime, instead of being stuck with one team. The cap also allowed for a minimum team payroll, forcing teams like Tampa Bay (now with different ownership) and Cincinnati to raise their payrolls significantly.

It’s generally worked well, particularly in making it possible for teams to go fairly swiftly from the bottom of the league to the top tier, under good management and coaching. Players have found that they can make much more money, and it has made the biggest difference to those playing positions that were previously undervalued. Offensive linemen, for instance, never got big money because fans paid more attention to the players at the “skill” positions, but coaches always knew how important they were, so now they get big money, too.

The cap has been extended a couple of times, when there was at least two years left on the old agreement. Now, time is growing short and Gene Upshaw, executive director of the Players Association, has said he would not recommend to his players that it be extended. There is no longer any incentive to the players because they already have free agency. The owners, meanwhile, are quibbling among themselves about how to divvy up the pie.

Having a salary cap has never meant that every team got an equal share of the pie. Television revenue, the most important factor, has been shared equally. So has revenue from selling team memorabilia. But only the revenue from regular seats has been shared. The home team keeps all the money from luxury suites and club seats, and teams with new stadiums have garnered much more revenue because of that.

The 49ers and Raiders rank at the bottom of the NFL in actual revenue. The Raiders would do better if they could sell their own memorabilia because they are very popular nationally; apparently, the further you get from the Raiders, the better they look. In one of their many lawsuits, they sued the NFL for the rights to sell their own stuff. They finally settled and, typically, their attorney called it a victory – but they didn’t get the right to sell their merchandise.

The NFL has a revenue-sharing plan which takes money from the top revenue teams and gives it to the lower rank. The 49ers and Raiders both get money from that fund. That would end without the cap and, meanwhile, the teams with the most revenue, such as the Cowboys and the New York teams, would be able to throw money at the top free agents, which would drive up their prices. Neither the 49ers nor the Raiders can compete in that kind of market.

IN THE ‘90s, it was the 49ers who plunged deeply into the free agent market. That really only worked once for them, in 1994, when they built up their team enough to win their fifth Super Bowl. Eventually, bad decisions plunged them into Salary Cap Hell. They’ve finally emerged from that and now claim to be $20 million under the cap, but that won’t matter if the salary cap goes away.

The Raiders have been big players on the free agent market in recent years, and they’ve done a much better job of keeping their salary cap obligations under control than the 49ers. They haven’t done a very good job of building a team that way, of course, but Davis remains committed to trying.

What would he do if the salary cap were not in place? He couldn’t afford to compete for the top stars on the free agent market because he doesn’t have the money. On paper, he’s a wealthy man, but his wealth is all in the Raiders. He leveraged his own holdings to buy out the Ed McGah family to settle that suit, which increased his worth on paper but probably left him with less actual money to spend. If he has to sit on the sidelines in the free agent market, it would diminish the value of the club, and his own worth. At 76 and apparently with health problems, that might be the final straw.

York’s position is even more precarious, because it’s his wife who holds the purse strings and, reportedly, she’s not at all happy with what’s happened. When Denise broke with her brother, Eddie, York persuaded her to buy the club, though she has no interest in football. Eddie, meanwhile, got the Simon DeBartolo company which had been part of the larger DeBartolo Corporation. I’m told that Eddie’s shares have gone up 4-5 times since then, so he’s very comfortable in his Florida and Montana homes.

Meanwhile, Denise is stuck with the team she kept only because her husband wanted to play Owner. She’s indulged him so far, so long as the team still made a little money, which it has, thanks to the NFL’s share-the-wealth program.

Even with a salary cap, the 49ers are in a bad financial position. York had to spend millions to settle the contracts of coach Dennis Erickson and general manager Terry Donahue after the 2004 season; if he hadn’t, the 49ers season ticket sales would have taken a precipitous drop. There was renewed interest with a new coaching regime coming in, but even so, at late season games, there were 20-25,000 empty seats at Candlestick. The 49ers admit they bought some tickets to have official sellouts and avoid home TV blackouts but claim it was less than a thousand for each game. If that’s true, there were an awful lot of ticket buyers who stayed home. That’s an ominous sign. I wouldn’t want to have to sell 49er season tickets this year.

And, if the salary cap is dropped, the 49ers will have no security blanket at all. At that point, I think Denise tells her husband to sell the team.

OVERALL, I’D hate to see the salary cap go away, even just for one year, because I think it’s been good for the NFL. But neither the Raiders nor the 49ers have a chance to get back to the NFL elite under their current ownership, so if losing the cap means losing either or both York and Davis. . . go for it!


CRUISE WITH ME: The new year is here and it’s time to make vacation plans. I’m putting together a sports-oriented group for a 12-day Eastern Mediterranean cruise, starting Sept. 28, which will include stops at spots like Athens, Istanbul and Cairo/Alexandria, which were the birthplace of western civilization.

When we’re at sea, we’ll hold group discussions during which you can ask me questions on any sports topic. We’ll have sessions in which you can play general manager and decide what you’d do if you were in charge of your favorite team: 49ers, Giants, A’s, Raiders, Warriors. We’ll be able to monitor ongoing games, so we can discuss the baseball playoffs, as well as the NFL and college football seasons.

Some of you responded earlier. Those of you who want more information now should contact travel agent Janice Hough at janice@gosfgiants.com. Janice will supply you with the complete itinerary and prices.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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