The current CBA is due to expire on March 3. But first...
The players formed a union in 1956, demanding teams provide them with a minimum salary and per diem, as well as providing uniforms and equipment, both maintained at the team's expense, and continued payment of salaries for injured players.
In what would become a trend, the union soon filed an antitrust suit against the NFL. Rather than pay for litigation, the owners conceded to most of the early demands. More than 10 years later, in July 1968, the union initiated its first strike. Two weeks later the the two sides came to an agreement, with the NFLPA finally earning recognition from the owners, as well as its first-ever CBA.
A bumpy road followed, with strikes in both 1982 and 1987. The essential sticking point in 1982 was the dispute over the percentage of gross revenues the league awarded its players. The union wanted 55 percent for its players -- a concession they are still fighting for today.
The ill-fated 1987 strike -- which lasted just one month due to the NFLPA failing to set up a strike fund to cover lost salaries -- initiated a chain of events that ultimately culminated in a new CBA in 1993. The parties agreed to a contract that permitted free agency, yet the owners were awarded a salary cap, albeit one tied to a formula based on players' share of total league revenues. The agreement also established a salary minimum.
That settlement has been extended by the NFLPA and league five times since 1993, most recently in March 2006, which was to extend the agreement through the 2011 season. Yet in May 2008 the owners chose to opt out of the current CBA and conduct the 2010 season without a salary cap or floor.And so the war rages.
Cap, tags, rookies and revenue share
Let's not fool ourselves, this negotiating process all about money, with the main issue regarding the share of gross revenues players are to receive. At current revenue levels, total revenue is an estimated $9 billion gross, minus a $1 billion credit in the owners' favor. The current owner's revenue sits at about 60 percent, after subtracting the $1 billion credit.
The owners are looking to have another $1 billion chopped off the top, totaling $2 billion, before the total revenue is divided. The players want a 50/50 split without owners taking any credit from the gross. This substantial gap between the two sides is what led owners to call of negotiations last week, and neither side seems willing to budge.
Then there are the issues regarding the salary cap -- which is based on the player's share of league revenues -- as well as whether franchise tags will still exist and a possible rookie wage scale. With so many issues involving greenbacks, it's hard to see this thing being resolved any time soon.
In June 2008, Mike Ditka gave a statement on behalf of former NFL members at a Congressional hearing in Washington. Speaking in his casual yet rushed manner, he lamented the plight of retired players.
"The reality of the situation is, if you make people fill out enough forms, if you discourage them enough, if you make them jump through hoops, eventually they'll say, ‘I don't need this. I can't do all of this. This is ridiculous.' And they're going to walk away from some of these [medical] situations.
"This basically is a lot of what has happened to these people. They are frustrated. These are proud people. They've played this game heroically and they have as much right to say that they are a part of this game as anybody playing in the game today."
Ditka is part of the 4,000-member NFL Alumni Association, which currently occupies seat three at the bargaining table. Executive director George Martin is arguing for increased pensions and pension benefits. He stated publicly his disinterest in being dragged into the dust storm created by Goodell and Smith, but he's using the CBA negotiations as a platform to facilitate the reform former players say they need.
"We have people living on the streets," he said. "We have people dying. We lost 130 of them this year. Somebody has to listen to us."
Goodell has said increased benefits for retired players is a must in any new CBA, and has blamed the union for not making it a priority -- a claim the union denies. With Goodell doling out fines like Halloween candy for illegal hits this past season, he has shown a willingness to protect current players. He now needs to find a way to protect those whose legacy his $10 million-a-year contract is built upon.
Yet many question Goodell's sincerity when it comes to how much he values player health, especially as he is now pushing for an 18-game regular season. The expanded schedule would put more money into owner's pockets but would also compromise player health. From the player's standpoint, this is the major holdup. Scott Fujita, Cleveland Browns linebacker, called it "a slap in the face."
Union spokesman George Atallah last week stated 352 active players went on injured reserve (IR) during the 2010 season, each missing an average of 9.5 games.
Yet NFL spokesman Greg Aiello countered, stating just "a few hundred" players out of the nearly 2,600 that go through the system each season -- 80 with each of 32 teams entering camp -- go on IR.
Of all the different points of contention in these negotiations, this is the one that could force the league to instigate a lockout. Goodell and the owners seem adamant about an 18-game season, and the players are just as firm in their opposing stance. One side eventually is going to have to give.
Bears coaches need CBA sooner than later
While the player's union and owners haggle on and on about billions of dollars, a lockout would seriously affect more than just the two sides. For Chicago assistant coaches, and many assistants around the league, the longer these talks drag on, the more it will impact their pocketbooks.
Chicago brass built into the contracts of every assistant coach on its team a lockout clause that will reduce their salaries by 25 percent on the day the lockout begins, with a team option to dismiss after a 60-day notice. Not all teams have similar clauses for assistant coaches, but the majority have included these types of lockout stipulations.
Lovie Smith and all other head coaches are immune to the pay cut. They will work and be paid no matter the state of negotiations. Yet for the 608 assistant coaches in the league -- an average of 19 per team -- their paychecks will be closely tied to the progress of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
Teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals will still pay their coaches throughout any lockout, as they feel the time off would be beneficial for assistants to watch additional film and fine tune offensive and defensive strategies. The New York Giants will pay their assistant coaches in full through the first six months of a lockout.
Yet most teams, like Chicago, have been preparing for a lockout since owners opted out of the current CBA in May 2008 -- as these clauses show. Think about that, the owners foresaw the current situation three years ago. We all understand these are complicated manners involving more money than most of can even imagine, but in what industry does a negotiation take three years? It's hard to fathom no progress being made when there's been that much time for the two sides to come to an agreement.
Needless to say, Mike Martz, Mike Tice, Bob Babich, Rod Marinelli and the rest of the Bears coaching staff are hoping the next 60 days are more productive than the previous 1,100.
NFL and NFLPA agree to federal mediation
In what can be seen as a glass-half-empty-or-half-full scenario, the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to participate in federal mediation regarding its labor dispute. George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) in Washington, will begin meetings today, two weeks from the time owners are expected to initiate a lockout. Reports state both sides have agreed to meet for seven consecutive days of negotiations.
"I have had separate, informal discussions with the key representatives of the National Football League and the National Football League Players Association during the course of their negotiations for a successor collective bargaining agreement," Cohen said in a statement. "At the invitation of the FMCS, and with the agreement of both parties, the ongoing negotiations will now be conducted under my auspices."
On one hand, the fact both sides are willing to call in a third party means they are at least making an effort to workout their differences. In this way, neither side can accuse the other of not trying.But on the other hand, it just shows how the much the relationship between the two sides has deteriorated. For three years, no progress has been made, and now, with two weeks before the deadline, they are becoming desperate. Everyone hopes the mediation will facilitate a new CBA, but if no progress is made over the next week, it will be a sure sign that a lengthy lockout will ensue.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.