NFL: The League Should Consider Instituting a 'Larry Bird' Exception

Christopher OlmsteadSenior Analyst IIIMarch 20, 2013

The NFL, like most sports, is very much in the business of what have you done for me lately when it comes to players. Unfortunately, this is the way it has to be given that coaches and general managers only have a few seasons to produce winners. This doesn't only apply to under-performing first or second year guys. Veterans are now beginning to feel the wrath of this line of thinking.

Ed Reed and Brian Urlacher have dominated for years at their positions. They have also spent their entire career with the same team. Reed has been a Raven for 11 seasons and Urlacher a Bear for 13 seasons. In 2013, it looks like both of these men will be playing with a different NFL team.

Each NFL team is allotted 53 men on their roster, making each spot critical. Couple that with the restrictions of the salary cap and it's a daunting task to piece together an NFL roster. When it comes to star players like Reed and Urlacher, everything is great when they are in their prime. It's when they begin to come to the end of their careers that things become tricky.

I am willing to bet that the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears would have liked to keep Reed and Urlacher, respectively. However, it would have to have been at the price the team felt comfortable with as opposed to the price the player wanted.

Some may see this as not being loyal to a player that has helped your franchise for a decade or more, but the NFL is a business. As a business it doesn't make a lot of sense to pay someone superstar money when their superstar days are behind them. Yet at the same time, teams that want to retain these veterans want to offer them something fair without crippling their salary cap in the process.

The solution to this problem is the "Larry Bird Exception. This rule was implemented in the NBA in 1983. The way the rule works is that it allows a team to exceed the salary cap to re-sign one of their own players. The intention of the rule was to make sure that teams could retain their stars and ensure continuity.

In the NFL, I believe that this rule could work with a twist. Unlike in the NBA where the exemption can be used to resign anyone, the NFL should only allow it to be used on veterans with "X" amount of years on said team. For example, if the NFL were to instate the rule and set the parameters at ten seasons, then a team could use it on any veteran that has played with them for ten seasons or more.

In this scenario, Reed and Urlacher could have potentially remained with their teams.

The rule is good for the league for a couple of reasons. First off, this rule would allow teams to keep their big name players for a few years longer. I am not trying to say that Bear's fans went to the games to see Urlacher and now that he is gone, they will stop coming. What I am saying is that having an Urlacher or a Reed is good for a team. What they lack in ability as they get older they will make up for with experience, leadership and mentoring.

The rule also benefits the general manager. It can't be easy to tell a man that has played with a team for over a decade that the team isn't willing to use their cap space to bring him back. This rule would allow general managers to retain a player they otherwise would have had to let go.

Lastly, this rule is good for the players. Urlacher has played in Chicago for 13 years and has never won a championship. Sometimes veterans want to stay longer to get that illusive ring. Sometimes veterans wish to remain with their team because they know they only have a few years left and they want to retire on their current team.

If the NFL were to adopt this rule, all of the above mentioned possibilities would be possible.

With any potential new rule there is always going to be some negatives. I am sure there would be situations where a team keeps a player and is worse off for it. The important thing to remember is that a rule is nothing more than a rule. How a team decides to utilize that rule, for better or worse is completely up to them.

And of course if the NFL were to ever adopt this rule, they would have to come up with a new name. I don't foresee Roger Goodell being okay with a rule named after an NBA legend.