[size=18px]NFL's new salary cap leads to some wild spending[/size]

Maybe T.O. really was underpaid. Maybe Eric Moulds should rethink the 4-year, $14 million pact he agreed to with Houston


It's great to be a free agent in the NFL these days. With the new $102 million salary cap, players are getting fat contracts and a great feeling of security.

The inflated cap also has driven teams to become free and sometimes overzealous spenders.

Seattle lost All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson when it refused to match a seven-year, $49 million offer sheet he received from Minnesota. The Seahawks passed because the contract included "poison pills," built-in clauses that would have forced them to make Hutchinson their highest-paid offensive lineman. That distinction belongs to left tackle Walter Jones, who averages $7.5 million annually.

The Seahawks' response was signing Vikings wide receiver Nate Burleson to a seven-year, $49 million offer sheet. The deal also contained clauses that would have guaranteed him the entire $49 million if the Vikings matched the offer, which they didn't.

You can't argue with Minnesota's decision to sign Hutchinson, one of the top five offensive linemen in the league. But what is Seattle thinking?

The Seahawks let one of their best players walk and then hand $49 million to a guy who had 30 catches and one touchdown last season. You tell me how that makes sense.

I mean, c'mon. Nate Burleson? I can name at least 30 wide receivers who are better than he is, and most of them don't own a $49 million contract.

And we all thought NFL bad boy Terrell Owens was off his rocker when he complained about his contract in Philadelphia. Maybe T.O. really was underpaid. Maybe Eric Moulds should rethink the 4-year, $14 million pact he agreed to with Houston. He's selling himself short.

Seattle also gave former San Francisco linebacker Julian Peterson a seven-year, $54 million deal. He might be worth it, assuming he returns to the Pro Bowl level he played at before tearing his Achilles tendon in 2004.

The supposedly salary cap-strapped Redskins have somehow found the funds to sign Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, St. Louis Rams strong safety Adam Archuleta and 49ers defensive end/linebacker Andre Carter to deals worth more than $90 million. Some would even argue deep-pocket owner Daniel Snyder overpaid each one, but that hasn't stopped him before.

The biggest spenders this offseason have been the Cleveland Browns, who added nearly $100 million to their payroll by signing six new starters - center LeCharles Bentley, left tackle Kevin Shaffer, nose tackle Ted Washington, wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, linebacker Willie McGinest and punter Dave Zastudil.

When you shell out big bucks, you better get a big return in your investment. The new players have a total of eight Pro Bowls among them and offer a nice blend of youth and experience, so perhaps it will be money well spent.

The Buffalo Bills have been downright frugal compared to some of their NFL brethren, with defensive tackle Larry Tripplett (five years, $18 million) being their most expensive signing.

There are several other examples of teams splurging on free agents. Ten teams were at least $20 million under the expanded cap ceiling, so they had plenty of money to throw around.

But throwing big money at free agents doesn't always translate to immediate improvement on the field. The Redskins finally made the playoffs last season after years of Snyder's excessive spending.

It's OK to spend heavily in free agency. The key is spending wisely because sometimes you don't get what you pay for.

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NFL's new salary cap leads to some wild spending