“So to tell you the truth they need to get their damn minds together and get this [expletive] done. Stop bitching about money. Money ain’t nothing. Money can be here and gone. Us players, we want to go out and play football. It’s something we’ve been doing and we love it and enjoy it. It’s our livelihood.”
– Antonio Cromartie
There is a lot to talk about after a very good championship weekend. Are the Steelers a dynasty? Is Aaron Rodgers the best QB in the NFL? Did Jay Cutler pack it in? It’s too bad the next two weeks aren’t going to produce hundreds of articles by sports websites about these issues and previewing the Superbowl. Oh wait…
Since we here at 25twofour think out of the box and like to explore aspects of sports other than “who won last night,” it’s important we address a possible travesty of epic proportions, a problem that is more near and dear to American’s hearts than healthcare, an issue that Democrats and Republicans can finally agree on. I’m talking, of course, about the potential of an NFL lockout next year. For the first time since 1993, there is no collective bargaining agreement in place next year, and if both the NFL and the NFL Players Association don’t approve one, next season will be delayed or cancelled. Now this whole issue can be really confusing, so I’m going to break it down for you.
A CBA is an agreement between a league like the NFL or NBA (the company) and the players association (the union). It stipulates certain rules for both sides and is the product of years of negotiation.
How long has an NFL CBA been around?
So far, there have been two strikes in NFL history: 1982 and 1987 (’87 was especially memorable since franchise owners used replacement players to play games for them). In 1993, the NFL and NFLPA came to an agreement on a new CBA, which has been very successful. This agreement has been extended ever since, most recently a 5 year extension in 2006.
So what’s with all the talk about a lockout?
In 2008 the first trouble with the agreement in 15 years occurred. The owners decided to opt out of the CBA early in 2010, erasing the salary cap for the 2010 season and potentially having no football in 2011. As of right now, there is no deal in place for the 2011 season and the owners are threatening to “lockout” the players- basically, no football.
Wait a minute. 25twofour just posted an article showing that the NFL makes more money than all of the other leagues. What exactly is the hold up?
Here we come to the crux of the problem. Normally when disagreements occur over an agreed upon contract, one side believes they are getting screwed. In this case, both sides think they’re getting screwed. The owners are unhappy with the current deal because 50% of the revenue generated by the league must be spent on player salaries. The players are unhappy because the owners want to extend the season by two games while also decreasing player salaries.
But the owners are all making so much money. What could they possibly be mad about?
First, the owners are required to spend at least 50% of their revenue towards player salaries. In addition, the salary cap goes up yearly, increasing the salary minimum. The owners want to make that 50% number lower. Why the big emphasis on cutting costs? City and state governments are getting smarter and smarter and refusing to spend as much on football stadiums. No team in California will get a new stadium (the Niners, Raiders, and Chargers may have the three worst stadiums in the league) unless the owners put up the money themselves. Even other leagues like the NBA are having trouble (most recently with the Supersonics leaving Seattle because they couldn’t finance a new stadium), and basketball arenas cost a fraction of football stadiums. The owners believe they are taking on a huge risk by putting up so much upfront money (the Cowboys new stadium cost $1.3 billion, with $1 billion coming from owner Jerry Jones himself). It’s their opinion that this wasn’t accounted for when the last CBA was agreed upon.
Second, the owners want to extend the season to 18 games, erasing two preseason games and making them part of the real NFL schedule. By increasing the number of games, they increase ticket revenue and money from TV contracts.
Third, they want a rookie salary scale. In the last few years, the NFL saw rookies like Jake Long and Vernon Davis become the highest paid players in their position without having played a single down. Implementing a new rookie salary scale places less emphasis on the need to take a good pick in the top five selections the draft.
What about the players?
Funny enough (note, not actually funny), the players are opposed to most of the changes the owners want to make. While owners believe they are taking a big monetary risk by investing money for new stadiums, players argue that they are putting their careers and livelihood on the line by playing. The average NFL career is only three and a half seasons and unlike the NBA or MLB, which has guaranteed contracts, an NFL franchise can terminate a player’s contract when he gets injured. Furthermore, with the amount of devastating injuries taking place on a weekly basis and with new research showing that multiple concussions can lead to Alzheimer’s like symptoms, the players feel they are in danger on a weekly basis.
Speaking of injuries, the idea of lengthening the season by two games is a very contentious issue with the players. The NFLPA believe there are enough injuries throughout the year and don’t want extra games causing even more injuries. More importantly to most players, the owners have not discussed adequate compensation for those two games. Players get paid on a per game basis, and the players argue that if they have to play two extra games, they should get two extra weeks of salary. This goes completely against what the owners want in terms of reducing salary.
The one issue the two sides agree on is controlling rookie salaries. They players want less of the salary cap used on players who haven’t played one down in the NFL yet.
So who’s going to win the negotiation?
My prediction: the owners, but not without some concessions. Unlike the players, the owners will still be getting paid even with a lockout. The huge contract they signed with TV networks will pay them regardless if there’s a season or not- the contract they signed with the TV networks made sure of that. In addition, some of the owners may make a little more since they don’t have to pay players or costs related to running an NFL franchise. The players, on the other hand, have no compensation if there is no football, and also lose their health benefits. This puts extra pressure on the NFLPA to get a deal done.
That’s not to say there is no absolutely no pressure on the owners. They’re all smart businessmen and know that a lockout would be very bad for business, especially since most Americans will view it as millionaires complaining about not making enough money.
My guess? The NFL will extend to 18 games, but the players will make more money doing so. There is no reason the NFL, the richest sports league in the world, will have a lockout next year. There’s too much money involved and too much pressure on both sides to get a deal done.