The Owl: The NFL May Never Be the Same

The Owl has been flying over Berea looking for signs about what is going to happen. With little to guide him, he is concerned about what the future may hold for both the Browns and the NFL. Here's the view of an insider who writes what he thinks in the guise of The Owl...

I keep hoping that the NFL owners and the players they pay, along with union president Gene Upshaw, will come to their senses and extend the collective bargaining agreement that has made football the best sport going.

Listening to the Orange and Brown Report radio show online Tuesday night, I was left with the impression Browns fans would be happy if there were no salary cap in 2007 (One is already in place this year). They assume Randy Lerner would just reach into his deep pockets and outbid other owners for players.

Hey, Randy is as big a Browns fan as one can be, but you know what? Billionaires don't become billionaires by losing money in their business transactions. We should not assume he'd be willing to lose $50 million a year until the Browns won a Super Bowl. Nor should he lose money just so we can finally have a championship.

Besides, Dan Snyder, the snotty owner of the Washington Redskins who is a big part of this mess, is living proof laying out gobs of money doesn't win anything. For that matter, even the New York Yankees, with all the money George Steinbrenner spends, have not been able to buy a World Series in recent years.

Football needs a salary cap in 2007, and to have a salary cap the league needs a collective bargaining agreement. Yes, it would be good for us to have the Browns win Super Bowl championships year after year, but I do not want to see the rich owners stomp on the little guys.

Paul Allen, owner of the Seahawks, made his billions from computer software. Snyder made his money through communications. Lerner inherited his.

Should the billionaires have an advantage over a team like the Bengals, whose owner, Mike Brown, has no other business ventures but the football team? I say no. True, the Bengals and all teams receive millions from the television networks, but not enough to get into a bidding war with a team with bottomless pockets. The competitive balance makes football great. Who wants to see 37-10 games all the time? Not me, even if the Browns have the 37 week after week.

All bets are off if there is no CBA. Maybe when the next television contract comes up the networks won't want to show the Arizona Cardinals. They would still show the Browns because fans watch despite the poor record, but there is no guarantee even that would continue. I could see this deteriorating to a point where each team negotiates its own television contract, similar to what happens in preseason.

Not having a CBA isn't all money and riches for players, either. Owners could cut their benefits and cut off retirement packages. Nothing good will come of this.

Players will have to wait six years instead of four to become free agents. Contracts can increase by only 30 percent a year. Teams will be cautious about huge contracts they normally would backload and then redo when the big payoff year drew near by giving the player a signing bonus and extending the contract.

Owners could trim rosters from 53 to, say, 50 to save money. The coaches would not like that. They could reduce the practice squad from eight to five and explain to coaches that since there would be no salary cap they could just sign another player. A roster reduction like the one explained above would mean a loss of 312 jobs - and that would not be good for Upshaw's resume even if a handful of players got richer.

The deadline for an agreement was supposed to be 4 p.m. Wednesday. Then is was 3 p.m. on Thursday. Now it is Sunday at 6 p.m. The league and union is not in agreement on what percentage of revenues should go to players. The union wants 60 percent. The owners want to fork over 56.2 percent. The works out to about $10 million per team, which is why the predictions of the salary cap for this year have been so varied.

Free agency begins at midnight on Monday. I hope you enjoyed football as it was, because it might never be the same again.

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