NEW YORK (AP) — Unrestricted by a salary cap this season, NFL teams resisted the temptation to break the bank on player salaries.
With labor strife looming, some even took advantage of a lesser-known aspect of an uncapped season: The elimination of the salary floor.
The league's average payroll increased by a modest 6 percent from last year, according to numbers provided to The Associated Press by the NFL Players Association. That's the same amount it grew between 2007 and '08 with the salary cap in existence.
Ten teams have payrolls of more than $125 million this season, up from three in 2009. Twelve are below $110 million, the same number as last year.
Nineteen of the 32 teams increased their payroll from 2009 to '10.
The Washington Redskins own the league's largest payroll at $145 million. Last year, that distinction went to the New York Giants at $138 million.
The Carolina Panthers bring up the rear this season at just under $77 million. The Kansas City Chiefs were last in 2009 at $77.7 million.
The payroll figures provided to the AP differ from those that would be used for salary-cap purposes. The NFLPA's numbers represent the total amount of money paid by teams to players in each year. For salary-cap calculations, signing bonuses are spread out over the length of a contract.
Last year's salary cap was $128 million, while the floor was $111 million.
A glance at the payroll figures reinforces a lesson from Major League Baseball, whose luxury tax can't fully eliminate the gap between rich and poor: Spending doesn't necessarily guarantee success.
The Redskins have a 5-6 win-loss record, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the second-lowest payroll at $84.5 million and are 7-4.
The 10 biggest-spending clubs include playoff contenders in the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens. But that list also features the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, none of which has more than four wins.
The Atlanta Falcons are tied for the league's best record with a payroll of $106.9 million, which puts them in the bottom 11.
The collective bargaining agreement reached in 2006 included a clause eliminating the salary cap in 2010, although the league and union both assumed they'd complete a new deal long before that ever occurred.
Instead, the deadline came and went last winter without anything close to a new CBA, leading to an uncapped season this year.
For all the talk about the salary cap in the NFL, many fans might not even realize the rules also included a floor. But with a potential labor stoppage looming, the chance to save money proved more appealing to some teams than the opportunity to splurge.
The average payroll is now just under $116 million, up from more than $109 million in 2009.
The Arizona Cardinals, who in two years have gone from a Super Bowl season to a 3-8 record, have the third-smallest payroll at $85.3 million, down 23 percent from 2009.
The one-win Panthers own the NFL's worst record to go with their league-low payroll. Carolina parted ways with nine starters after last season, leaving the Panthers as the NFL's third-youngest team as their payroll decreased 35 percent.
General manager Marty Hurney has insisted the club wasn't trying to save money, just going with a youth movement.
Not surprisingly, quarterbacks are by far the highest-paid players in the NFL, averaging $4.1 million in compensation. But fans might have a hard time guessing the order of the rest of the positions.
Offensive linemen are second at $2.1 million, followed by linebackers and defensive tackles. Running backs rank next to last, barely beating the punters and kickers at $1.4 million vs. $1.3 million.
AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.