by David Shott
Doomsday may have arrived: the National Football League has begun to lockout its players. The owners and the players do not seem close to formalizing a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Without this deal in place, it is very possible that there may not be a 2011 NFL season. This is a huge amount of money that the NFL would be losing through ticket sales and a large decline in merchandise sales, and it seems strange that both parties would be willing to forgo this income for the 2011 season. So why has it come to this standstill?
Since the negotiations between the players and owners following the 1987 NFL strike, the two parties have been working under essentially a 50/50 split of all revenues. The players and their agents are perfectly content continuing to work under this platform, but the owners want to change the percentage distribution. And change it quite dramatically. The owners are proposing that it will now be under a 58/42 split in their favor. Each percentage point that it changes is roughly 500 million dollars shifting hands, so this is 4 billions dollars that the owners are trying to take out of the players' hands. The owners do have more expenses than the players, so I do agree that they should be taking in more money than the players. This much seems to be a bit extreme though, so somehow the two parties need to come to a compromise, and do so quickly.
The next issue that has been complicating matters is that the owners also want to extend the season from 16 to 18 games. Seems harmless enough, right? This means more revenue would be generated that will be distributed amongst all parties. However the additional revenue earned is very minimal for the players. What extra money they do make, which is not all that large to begin with, must be divided between all the players. Is this small increase in pay worth them risking serious injury of playing two more violent games? Most players contend that it is not. It does seem pretty absurd from an a third party's perspective that the owner's would suggest that the revenue distribution be shifted heavily away from the players and then request that they put themselves through two more grueling Sundays. One thing that must be considered, however, is the positive effect that additional games will have on the economies of the cities in which the games are being played.
A rookie hard cap on salary is yet another request that owners are demanding in their proposal to the players. This is something that I endorse heavily and something that I feel has been a long time coming. It is pretty outrageous that unproven rookies can come into the league and get contracts that dwarf those of All-Pro players. Players need to earn their salaries and not simply be handed inordinate amounts of money based solely on their draft position. Tell me if this sounds right to you: in 2009, Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady had a base salary of 8 million dollars. Not too shabby, you could argue. However that same year Chris Long, a second year defensive end for the St. Louis Rams, earned a salary of 19.1 million dollars. I guess those 4 sacks he racked up the previous year seem worth that hefty contract, huh? This seems like a change that needs to be made, and most veteran players appear to be on board with this too. (On the flip side, it probably wasn't the smartest move for you to stay in school an extra year when you could have been the #1 overall pick last year eh, Jake Locker?)
We have laid out several things that may change under the new CBA to this point. But what effect is this lockout having on teams such as the Bengals right now? For starters, there currently is no free agency period. Normally starting on March 4, free agency will not begin until an agreement is firmly in place. The draft in April will still go on however, and this will be of even more importance than normal. Because of the uncertainty of when free agency will begin (if at all) coupled with changes to the salary cap, teams will need to strike gold through the draft. Normally teams can address their needs first through free agency, and then supplement these deficiencies through the draft. Now the draft might be all they have until the season starts, whenever that may be. Oh and rookies, you will not be able to negotiate a deal with the team that drafts you until the owners and players come to terms on a new CBA.
The owners and players ultimately need to come down from their high horses and see it from the perspective of the opposing party. The owners cannot reasonably expect that the players will be fine with losing 4 billion dollars; maybe a 46/54 split could work. Also, the cons seem to far outweigh the pros in extending the season 2 more games. I do agree with capping the rookie contracts as they seem to be getting ridiculous, but until an agreement is in place, they will not be getting any money. One thing for sure, a new agreement needs to instituted...and quickly. No season means both sides will lose billions of dollars and could lead to fans losing their allegiance to this great sport. The only positive spin-off from this whole ordeal that I can see is that at least Carson Palmer will not be making any money with no deal in place…