Wide receiver Henry Ellard of the Rams is probably in the final year of his football career, and he doesn't know it.
Ellard, one of 33 players in NFL history to have caught more than 500 passes, will earn $850,000 this season.
When the season ends, Ellard will become a free agent and, based on the recent off-season's payoffs to free agents with his credentials, he expects to become a millionaire.
"No way," said an official from one NFL team. "Salary cap. Next year he's just another guy named Henry looking for work, now that his football career is over."
Salary cap. By this time next year, those two words will probably have been the death knell for scores of athletes who shared one major flaw: They made too much money.
Pay cuts and pink slips are expected to deplete most NFL rosters. Household names will be released, and fans will not understand why good players remain available and unwanted.
"There are a lot of people who are in for a rude awakening," said Jackie Slater, Ram offensive tackle. "You will no longer have the middle-of-the-road guy, the solid, stable backup who has been paid good money to do what he does. That job is going to be eliminated.
"Guys that have the ambition of playing a long time and who have set economic goals are going to become disenchanted when they realize their dream is unattainable because of what the union has done with the collective-bargaining agreement.
"There are going to be cuts in pay, and there are going to be lots of young guys making little or no money. Everybody is looking at last year and thinking they are getting ready to break the bank. They are totally ignoring that little bitty thing--the salary cap."
The salary cap will go into effect if the league spends 67% of its gross revenue on player costs.
John Shaw, executive vice president of the Rams and one of the prime designers of the salary cap, said his team is $3 million to $5 million over next year's projected cap.
Take a look at the Rams' roster, and imagine having to cut up to $5 million from the payroll and then go compete for a playoff berth.
"And we're considered in the middle of the pack," Shaw said. "If we don't have an increase in television revenue, then most organizations are going to have to make cuts."
Players such as Ellard, however, will be looking for a raise next season.
"With free agency like it was this year, there is definitely a big difference," Ellard said. "I'm just not sure how all this affects me."
Players who have done great things, such as Ellard, might continue to pile up impressive statistics, but that probably still won't matter.
"This is (Washington wide receiver) Art Monk's last season, whether he likes it or not," agent Bruce Allen said. "Players are going to be playing for $350,000 a year or they're going to be out of a job, especially on successful teams."
Tackle Irv Eatman left the New York Jets in March and agreed to play for the Rams this season for more than $1 million. Good timing, as Eatman discovered, made him a rich man.
"Next year won't be like this year, that's for sure," Eatman said. "A lot of teams did their thing this year and said, 'We'll worry about next year when it comes.'
"You're going to see a lot of surprises next year. There are going to be guys who don't make it, and you won't understand why until you look and see what they're making."
This year, teams such as Green Bay and the Jets put out large sums of money for widely known free agents. Next year, they will be forced by the rules to substantially reduce their payrolls.
"I've drawn up some scenarios on an overhead projector just to show our coaches what 1994 is really going to look like," said Bobby Beathard, San Diego general manager. "The 49ers have 23 players and have set aside $23 million for them. Most people are guessing the cap to be around $33 million with $4.5 million of that being set aside for players' benefits.
"That leaves $28.5 million for salaries."
That would also leave $5.5 million, under the 49ers' plan, to pay their remaining 25 to 30 players.
"I took an example for our team," Beathard said. "Setting aside 37 players and what we pay them, we're about $5.7 million over the projected cap right there.
"Coaches are going to have to sort out the players they absolutely can't do without. Coaches aren't used to those kind of decisions. I mean, I've never been with a team where you had to get rid of somebody because of money, but the system now is telling you to do that."
The system changed when owners and players agreed to a new six-year collective-bargaining agreement, which includes the potential for a salary cap beginning in 1994.
"The purpose of the cap is to put all teams on the same playing field competitively," Shaw said. "During the labor negotiations, movement--free agency--was a big issue with the players.