Levine: Let the Games Begin!

Les offers his insight about the upcoming free agency period...

Now that the NFL owners and players have come to their senses and have agree to a six-year contract extension of their collective bargaining agreement, it's time for us to see what the 2006 rosters will look like. The new agreement raises the salary cap by $7.5 million up to $102 million for the upcoming season.

Al Lerner once told me that the other owners were lucky that there was a salary cap, because he would have become the George Steinbrenner of football. On talk radio and television there has always been speculation about what would happen if the Dolans bought the Browns, which would have a salary cap, and if Lerner bought the un-capped Indians. Everything about that is pure speculation, but the reality is that neither the Dolans nor Lerner had the passion for the other sports or teams.

You can talk all you want about the relative success of the ownerships by the Dolan and Lerner families, but I don't think anybody can question their passion for the sports that they got involved with.

Now that the labor situation is settled, as the dust clears we will see that the Browns are in tremendous shape to attack the free agent market. Whether they will be successful in that market remains to be seen. Forget what happened in the 2005 season---this is the year we will find out if Randy Lerner made the right choices in Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel. This is the year we will find out if all the perks that the players get---laundry service; baby sitting; travel arrangements, etc.---has spread around the league, enough to take a good look at the franchise. It would seem to me that the losing record for the last seven years would have more of a negative effect on player's decisions than locker room perks, but we'll see.

We'll also find out if the good reputation of Crennel, and the opportunity to play under him will be enough to sway some opinions. If I were a player, and knew that I had only four or five seasons left, I would have to look at that opportunity and weigh it against the competition in AFC North. On the surface, it would appear that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals are in a much better position to compete for the next couple of years.

But, as always, it will come down to money. Because of all the negatives surrounding the Browns---poor weather; poor recent history (the glory days Paul Brown, Otto Graham and Jim Brown mean nothing to modern players); and national image of the city all play against the Browns. Relatively few big names sign on with Rust Belt cities in all of the major sports. Savage and Lerner are going to have to be very creative in how they intend to spend the money has been built up.

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You always hear about how players are perceived in `the locker room', and that players spend so much time in the room, so there is an opportunity to build camaraderie and teamwork.

If that is the case, I'd like to suggest that the Browns re-model their locker room in Berea. I'm not an architect, but the way it is currently set up gives no opportunity at all for locker room camaraderie. The locker room at Cleveland Browns Stadium is much more team favorable, as it is wide open. The one in Berea is sectioned off, with almost no room for the players to move around. There is no open area for inter-action between the players. That is probably the first thing that a newcomer, player or media member, notices upon entering the locker room for the first time. With all of the amenities that Browns players and front office personnel are given, you would think the locker room would be the most important area to take care of. As currently set up, there is nothing about it that would give anybody the idea that it is a good team-like atmosphere.

As long as the Berea locker room is set up that way, a `good locker-room guy' would virtually go unnoticed.

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One interesting note about the revenue-sharing portion of the new labor agreement is that the league's top fifteen revenue-producing teams will contribute to a fund to be disbursed to lower-revenue teams. That fund should never be touched. Other than Art Modell, what owner has been in trouble in recent years? Even the Bidwill family in Arizona has been able to thrive (and get a new stadium) without coming close to selling out their games.

Another thing to think about is how the players are able to guarantee getting around 60% of the football revenue, without assuming any of the risk or expenses?

As usual, most fans have no idea, nor do they care, about the terms of labor-management squabbles in sports. But the vast majority sides with ownership, at least until they raise the ticket prices.

Les Levine is the host of 'More Sports & Les Levine', which can be seen M-F from 6-7pm and 11-midnight on Adelphia Channel 15 in northeast Ohio. He is also the lead Sunday columnist in the Lake County News-Herald and Lorain Journal.  E-mail msandll@aol.com or www.leslevine.com

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