NFL owners have been unhappy with the current collective bargaining agreement almost since the day it was signed in March 2006. At the time, free agency was set to begin and, without a new agreement, 2006 would have been the final year of the contract using the salary cap and 2007 would have been an uncapped season. The conventional wisdom at the time was that if the salary cap went away in 2007, it would never come back.
Fast forward two years. NFL owners are going to meet Tuesday and one of the items on the agenda is to decide whether to opt out of the current CBA – or at least further discuss that possibility. The owners' stance on the salary cap and how revenue is shared has become increasingly more contentious. Players currently are paid 60 percent of the defined gross revenue generated by the league, but owners feel they are being shortchanged because those costs don't reflect the costs incurred for the construction of new stadiums and the management of stadiums and team training facilities.
The league finds itself back at square one. If the owners opt out of the current CBA, which is set to run through 2013, 2009 would become the final season with the salary cap. In 2010, it would be an uncapped season and the CBA would expire in 2011. Once again, the belief is that if the salary cap goes away, it might never come back. Owners and player have until Nov. 8, 2008 to opt out of the current deal.
The NFL has become the model that other sports have attempted to emulate when it comes to basing player pay on revenues. The NBA and NHL has adopted salary caps, leaving only Major League Baseball as a major sport without a salary cap. As a result, teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have been able to buy championships by outspending smaller market teams.
When the last CBA was approved, it was done with incredible speed. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue got owners to unite on the issue – voting 30-2 to approve (only Cincinnati and Buffalo voted against it). For the current CBA to be terminated, 24 of the 32 owners must vote in favor of stopping it – a number some industry insiders believe can be achieved.
It seems as though there should be an area of compromise for both sides. The NFL is strong as a brand and there is enough money to go around that could and should make everybody happy. The lack of salary cap would be harmful to the league, as rich, hungry owners could spend twice as much as a thrifty franchise and turn a team like the Cowboys into the Yankees.
Many fans hope that the owners will swallow hard and accept their fate under the current CBA, which will run through 2013. However, if the owners vote to opt out of the deal, you can bet it will create a stir and consternation for getting another deal in place.