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Why you shouldn't worry about players' cap hits

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Twice a year, the MLS Players Union drops a great big dump of player salary information in our laps, and we're all happy to writhe around in the numbers and make assumptions and guesses about the state of a team's salary cap.

But if the 2015 MLS Collective Bargaining Agreement document released today by that same union teaches anything, it should be that we can't count on those numbers actually equating to a salary cap budget.

First, this line should be entirely instructive as to our guessing efforts:

The League will determine, in its discretion, a Player’s Salary Budget Charge according to the following formula, provided, however, that MLS retains discretion to lower a Player’s Salary Budget Charge in individual cases.

"Discretion" — that's a big word here, and it basically means that, if the league has a strong desire (or perhaps a weak one; we can't be certain), a player's cap hit can be decreased. That's nice, right? We've almost certainly seen the benefit of that, and I'm sure many other teams have, too.

That formula it mentions is as follows:

  1. Base salary x 1.04
  2. + signing bonus paid or payable on a cash flow basis
  3. + readily achievable individual bonuses in contract (calculated partly by previous year performance)
  4. + any housing and car allowance
  5. + any loyalty bonuses
  6. + any additional compensation (including roster bonus)
  7. + any marketing bonus
  8. + any loan/transfer acquisition cost
  9. + any green card/visa processing cost
  10. + any agent's fees
  11. + any other costs 'reasonably determined by MLS after consulting with the union'

Of course, it all maxes out at the designated player mark, which is 12.5 percent of the salary cap budget for a given team.

So, what we have here, is a highly variable cap hit that we can't really judge from one number. And as another factor, there's a four percent increase between salary and the very base of the cap hit that hasn't factored in, either.

Now, some players might not even count in the same way — we've heard about the Home Grown budget teams have, but that's not described in the CBA. In fact, the one thing we really know is that Home Grown Player rules are something the league has complete control over.

Finally, while we know something about the amount of allocation money teams are given (we at least have the lower limits in the aforementioned document), we don't really know how much each team has, and how much they've spent, and how much carries over from year to year. Allocation can be used to buy down a player's salary budget hit, so it's difficult to measure cap hit with any reliability at all.

The point of all this isn't to squash speculation, but merely to meter concerns about salaries and cap hits and all that magical nonsense.

To get to the meat of it: You shouldn't worry because you don't have enough information with which to worry. If you know that a player joining Real Salt Lake from waivers, you might know their previous base salary and guaranteed salary, but let's make a list of things that aren't known:

  • Desire of MLS to reduce a player's salary cap hit
  • Allocation money used to buy down a player's salary cap hit
  • The players' bonuses
  • "Other costs"

The big one's the first one. If that happens, we'll probably never know about it. MLS has a long and storied history of not releasing those things, after all.