Give and Take: Countdown to Parity's Demise

All good negotiations feature a standoff between two opposing sides. All good negotiations bring out the best and worse. All good negotiations come down to the final minutes.

As it stands now, in the twilight hours of the original extended Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), we have the makings of a "good" negotiation.

What completes a negotiation, however, is overcoming the obstacles of a "good" negotiation and actually getting one done.

As preached in any negotiating business course in undergraduate studies, "a successful negotiation is one where both sides walk away from the bargaining table thinking they've screwed the other side over." As of late Tuesday evening, neither side remained seated at the bargaining table.

One side (NFLPA Director Gene Upshaw) exuded pessimism towards an agreement and felt it was a waste of time to continue talks that he foresaw wouldn't progress. The other side (NFL owners and Commissioner Paul Tagliabue) originally lauded pure optimism towards a newly extended CBA, even after talks broke off several hours into the conference.

Already settled in the negotiations was the second biggest hurdle: expanding the defined revenues in which employee athletes would base their percentage of the cut. By agreeing to change the base revenues from "designated gross revenues" to "total gross revenues," the player's association in essence increased their pay out by millions. This alone was an obvious win for Gene Upshaw and the NFLPA.

However, he didn't stop there. He wanted more.

Not only was a broader revenue base needed to satisfy his appetite, now he wants a bigger cut of it all. Owners increased their offer to 56.2%, but Upshaw seems hell-bent on nothing less than 60%.

And this is what we were left with when everyone last left the bargaining table. It's all up to the percentages, and according to Upshaw's stance, the NFL owners are a minimum of 3.8 percentage points too low. A 3.8 number would translate into upwards of six to eight million dollars more in additional cap space. In other words, more dollars for player salaries.

Who's at fault in the breakdown of negotiations?

Gene Upshaw?

All Gene Upshaw is trying to do is his job. His job's objective is to see that the players receive their greatest possible benefits.

The Owners?

They've already given in to awarding the player's association a greater pool of revenues to draw their percentage from, and now they're supposed to also give them more on top of that?

One very operative word when it comes to understanding negotiations is "compromise." Take a look at the negotiating table's scoreboard. Right now it reads "Upshaw 1, Owners 0." Gene intends to see the final outcome "2-0" in his favor (by also getting his percentage increase in revenues), while the owners are looking to even it out at "1-1" (by maintaining a leveled percentage in revenues).

As this writer sees it, compromise would be justified with Upshaw giving into a lower percentage point from the one he presently stands firmly on.

Upshaw has been quick to point out that he's willing to risk an uncapped year if negotiations fail. Upshaw further solidifies his stance in threatening to never again bring the cap back once it's gone. These are firm threats that cannot be taken lightly, especially granted the owners do not have at their disposal the only defense mechanism an owner has against his workers: a lock-out.

As posed in the current CBA, a lockout cannot be performed until after the ending year of the CBA. As it turns out, the only retaliation that the owners have is the weak threat of a "blank bullet" lock-out two years down the road. That's not much a threat when it's only effective 730 days from the present, and by then it'll be too late.

Basically, Upshaw knows his advantage and he's going to press it. Upshaw came to the fight fully armed and dangerous, while the owners aren't even using sticks and stones.

The consequence?

Upshaw could choose to squeeze NFL ownership to the point where negotiations simply cease and we are indeed granted an uncapped 2007 league year.

As a result, this coming Thursday could be the bloodiest the NFL has ever witnessed.

Cuts will be fast and furious. The long-term effects will be even worse.

It should be noted that an uncapped NFL would actually be worse than major league baseball. At least baseball has imposed luxury taxes that are "supposed to" inhibit great gaps in spending between mega-market and small market teams. The NFL does not and will not.

We've already seen how "effective" those luxury taxes serve as hurdles to mega-market clubs. Can you imagine how much worse it could be without any obstacles? It would be a free-for-all that would favor the mega-market teams.

There's no coincidence in the fact that a large amount of championships landed in Chicago, New York, Washington, Dallas, San Francisco and Los Angeles before the salary cap was imposed. Those are your mega-markets.

Those are the markets that generate the most cash flow for owners to entice greedy free agents.

Make no mistake about it, the mega markets will hold an insurmountable advantage when it comes to winning, and winning in free agency. Without a cap, the next call of "do you believe in miracles?" won't be a rerun of an amateur U.S. hockey team beating an established Soviet team, but rather a small market team overcoming the odds and beating a mega-market team.

Do you believe in miracles?

We may have to hope for one if we want a new extension to the CBA.

Upshaw says it's in the hands of the owners.

Quite frankly, it's mostly in his.

As the hours tick away on the deadline for a CBA renewal, here's hoping the scoreboard will show "Parity 1, Disparity 0."

Otherwise, this time tomorrow will mark the beginning of the end to Parity in the NFL.

So, will both sides walk away from the negotiating table with a done deal, thinking they've "screwed the other side over?"

Or will the fans be the ones that are "screwed over?"

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