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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Layman's guide to the NFL labor talks


I just spent the last four hours of my miserable existence sifting through every possible scrap of information involving the NFL’s pending apocalypse. That’s how complicated this stuff is.

So what do you need to know in preparation for months and months of bitter negotiations between greedy owners and a fumbling players union? An ass load of stuff, in fact. I’ve attempted to gather as much information as humanly possible, sprinkle in some humor, drop in some wisdom, and stir it all up into one dry, inedible, shit-soufflé of labor negotiations. You’re lucky I wrote this, because it was boring as hell…

Many thanks to articles by Peter King, Michael Silver, Pro Football Talk, and various NFL.com and ESPN reports for helping me wrap my brain around this stuff.
1. Will there be a lockout?

Yes, it’s virtually certain at this point. That doesn’t mean part of the season will automatically be missed, but if a new agreement isn’t devised by March fourth, a lockout will be in place. BUT, as outlined later, owners don’t have to implement a lockout of the players.

2. What exactly is the strategy of the owners and the league?

To put it blatantly, the owners feel like they got screwed by the last CBA (collective bargaining agreement)deal in 2006. It’s a widely held belief that several owners (no one really knows how many) are willing to grit this out and drive the union to its breaking point (or beyond). Depending on how many of the owners represent that line of thought, it could be bad news for us peons. The owners are clearly driving a hard bargain, and seem willing to lose as many games as necessary in order to strike a deal that benefits them much more than the one about to expire.

While the owners may be content to bunker down for an extended period of time, the league badly wants a deal in place as soon as possible. Like now, in fact. Here’s what the NFL hopes: 490 players are slated to become free agents this season, and unlike players firmly under contract, the free agents will start missing checks in March. If enough of them speak out, tremendous pressure will be placed upon the union to get a deal done by the March fourth deadline. The league believes that will push the players union to rush a deal through in order to placate the 490 FA’s…nearly one third of the league.

3. Well, crap, what can the union do?

The Players Union has one major trick up their sleeve: the ability to decertify from a legally recognized workers union to a collection of individual workers. Considering the NFLPA (player’s association) met with players from every team to gain advance approval for such an act, decertification is certainly in play. The potential of decertification has been heavily criticized by the league, but as Pro Football Talk aptly put it,

“Some think that the NFL would challenge the maneuver as a sham, but such an approach would entail P.R. risks, since the NFL would be using litigation in order to force a lockout on the players. Given that the NFL has repeatedly criticized the union for using litigation in place of negotiation, it would be a challenging exercise in double-talk for the league to resort to litigation against the union.”

So what happens if decertification does indeed happen? Take a deep breath…

So, if the union disbands, the NFL would inevitably attempt to place rules for free agency, the draft, and the salary cap across the 32 “different” businesses (each NFL franchise). That would then provoke the Union to file an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. But of course, this has to be a little more complicated. There’s a chance the union may be bluffing about decertification because they are afraid they could lose the lawsuit.

So to recap, the union can decide to decertify, thus provoking the NFL to write up a whole new set of laws that will need to apply to each franchise, thus provoking the Union to file suit. BUT this may all be a bluff because the player’s union is a bunch of wussies.

Holy Crap

4. What is this revenue sharing issue I keep hearing about?

Basically, in the 2006 CBA extension, players earned 59.6 percent of total revenue and of the nine billion dollars the NFL earns annually, the owners received one billion off the top before the players got their share. The owners want to increase that sum to two billion...
A plan was also implemented in which the league’s 15 highest earning teams subsidized the league’s other 17. Owners don’t like this for three reasons: 1. They’re greedy pricks. 2. The players get too much money. 3. Poorer teams have really favorable stadium deals while richer ones don’t. Number three in particular is very important. Essentially, the most successful owners are writing BIG checks to help fund stadiums of another, less successful team. Therefore, that less well-off team suddenly has a greater profit margin because they pay so little for their stadium.

So here’s what’s going on: There’s a potential war happening just under the surface between the most successful owners (those among the top 15) and the less successful (those among the bottom 17). They of course, don’t want this to happen, so they believe that by paying the players less, that leaves more cash for themselves, and therefore, permanently solving the revenue sharing issue. According to Pro Football Talk, the owners want to keep this under wraps—and they’re somewhat amazed the union has yet to bring it up.

5. Why did the league file an unfair labor practice charge against its players union?

Technical answer: The league believes the union is “running out the clock” thus avoiding reaching a new agreement by the March third deadline so it can decertify and file an antitrust lawsuit.

Blitzswish’s version: Both sides are acting like second graders caught stealing cookies; if this thing is going to get done, the incessant finger pointing needs to stop. Just last week the union proposed a new deal in which the owners subsequently stormed out because they didn’t like it. I could be mistaken, but don’t negotiations involve both sides talking about their differences and settling on a compromise? I guess we never really grow up after all, we just learn to hide our inner child.

6. In the event of a lockout, what will the offseason look like?

A barren wasteland devoid of free agency, trades, OTA’s, mini-camps, training camps, or even preseason games (assuming a deal isn’t in place by August). According to Peter King, if the lockout extends into the preseason/regular season we could see a freeze of all potential free agents in place. A freeze-out in which free agents would need to remain with their current teams would be necessary because of the chaos that would result from a week-long free agency period right before the beginning of a season put together on the fly. Could you imagine, say the Raiders, attempting to resign restricted free agent Nnamdi Asomugha as they prepare for their first game of the season? As awesome as it sounds, utter chaos would ensue.

7. Replacement games anyone?

During the last lockout—in 1987, three weekends worth of games were held with replacement players. This weakened the union’s resolve as numerous veterans quit the strike to play in these “replacement games”. It would suck balls not to have real football, but don’t tell me you wouldn’t be morbidly fascinated watching a 450 pound Jamarcus Russell launch bombs to some car salesman picked off the street because they needed another guy. Call me crazy, but it’s very much in play.

Also in play:

1. Players staging their own games: Assuming they could find a venue (easier than you would think in today’s world) and a T.V network not already in business with the NFL (There’s plenty, examples include TNT, TBS, Versus, The Food Network). Brady to Fitzgerald anyone?

2. The UFL: Some even believe the United Football League, formed in 2009, was built with the impending NFL lockout in mind.

8. So those rich bastards finally work something out, what happens?

It’s mid-October, America is in the midst of a football famine, I’m recovering from a severe concussion after getting rocked by James Harrison in a scrimmage, Peyton Manning is holding Roger Goodell hostage in Lucas Oil Stadium, Demaurice Smith has fled to a remote island in the Pacific, and through all this a new CBA has been agreed upon. What does it say?

Some likely outcomes:

1. An 18 game schedule

As vehemently opposed to this as I am, the reality is that it will likely happen. Both sides—the owners and players union—will need to make some concessions to get this new labor deal through. One compromise, I believe, will be the implementation of a longer regular season. In fact, as Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports said, the players union will likely use the player’s opposition to the 18 game regular seasons as a bargaining chip designed to extract other concessions.

2. A Rookie-wage scale

Sam Bradford, last year’s number one draft pick is guaranteed $50 million dollars—more than what three time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady is guaranteed even with his new contract. I think pretty much everyone besides future NFL prospects is on board with a rookie wage scale much like the NBA’s current system. It’s ludicrous that unproven draftees are making more money than proven stars. It’s also made the number one overall pick more of a detriment than something to covet. What team wants to pay a prospect—one who hasn’t even proved he can play at the highest level—more money than even the most recognizable faces of the NFL?

The good news is that this new pay scale is very likely to be implemented. According to Michael Silver:

“The players, in fact, have already put forth a proposal that would implement a rookie wage scale, sending a letter to the league last February detailing a “Proven Performance Plan.” The plan called for rookie deals to be reduced in length to three years – the union later said it would agree to a four-year threshold – and created a revenue pool that would fund incentives for players who outperform their contracts and benefit retired players.”

3. A protection plan for retired players

The new CBA will likely ensure the the union and the owners contribute to a fund set up to benefit ex-players either destitute or debilitated. Not only would this be morally correct, but it would improve public relations for both sides.

9. How many TMZ pictures of half-naked players walking out of strip clubs smoking pot surrounded by multiple women will we see?

Possibly quite a few. If there is no CBA in place, the NFL has no authority over the players. They can’t test for substance abuse, enforce a code of conduct, or otherwise maintain any sort of control over 21 year old kids making more money than they know what to do with. So hide your wife, hide your kids, but most importantly…hide your wife.

10. Why the f*** would the NFL and Union cancel a second day of negotiations???

Imagine an advanced civilization from the outer most reaches of space is about to invade Earth. The most powerful leaders in the world meet in Washington D.C to discuss this impending war, and attempt to formulate some solutions. You, as a citizen of the world, are terrified out of your freaking mind because your home is about to be blown to hell by some aliens from God knows where. You flip on the news, after eight solid hours of flipping your lid, only to learn that world leaders have cancelled a second day of brain storming. That essentially, is exactly what the Union and NFL just did—they cancelled a day of negotiations that could decide the next decade or more of professional football. Do they realize the stakes????????

They have until midnight of March third before the current CBA expires! That’s 18 days! Every freaking hour of negation is as valuable as a pound of gold! The fate of a civilization doesn’t rest on their shoulders, merely that of thousands of low level workers employed by the NFL and the fate of nine billion dollars. NINE. BILLION. DOLLARS. That’s nine billion more than I have in my wallet at this very moment…

11. So no football, should Sunday be dead to me?

Hell no! This a chance for every man to reconnect with his significant other, pursue other interests, or what I’ll be doing, repeatedly bashing my head against a buzz saw because I have nothing to write about.

Here’s the bottom line: we’re in for a dragged out, long labor negotiation like a bizzaro Micky Ward fight. The owners want one thing: a better deal for themselves, less money for the players, while the players want another thing: a fair deal, a better retirement plan, and most of all, a pay check. Both sides, in the end, will have to make some concessions and meet somewhere in the middle. Coming out of this, both corners need to feel like they got the better end of the bargain.

We all know the NFL makes incomprehensible amounts of money, and the owners recent claims of decreased margins of profit, are in my opinion, bullshit. This is about teams not making as much money as they perceive they should be. The owners need to figure out this revenue sharing thing, a rookie wage scale needs to be implemented, and most of all, someone needs to shut Jerry Richardson up.

I think a deal gets done, and I think the post 2011-football world ends up in a better place than it was post 2006 CBA deal. But what will it take, and at what cost? If stubborn owners continue to cancel negotiations in the midst of the biggest labor crisis in the past twenty years, and refuse to compromise, please calmly wave goodbye to the 2011-2012 season.

And God forbid we have a lockout in the NBA next season, I might have to write about baseball. Ughhhhhhhh……

1 comment:

  1. The owners and the league SUCK. Let them play!! This needs more attention. Owner Greed (via the patriots organization) is misleading the good guys (aka the Steelers and the packers, etc). Sorry pats fan (i know where you are from Blitzworth, but the lousy Pats Owner is leading this greedy mess.

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