Owners have been complaining that players receive too large a slice of the revenue pie. But when quarterback Trent Green, a 38-year old player with a history of concussions, can get $4 million in guaranteed dollars in 2008, there's danger in the true solvency of the NFL over the next decade.
Green, of course, isn't ready to give it up, especially when you consider the path he took to the NFL. I'm not going to debate the merits of his desire to play. That's his choice.
But when Bill Parcells took over the Dolphins, he quickly released Green – a sure sign that he's more or less finished as an NFL player. Undaunted, the Rams, who hired Al Saunders (Green's former offensive coordinator) and Terry Shea (Green's former quarterbacks coach), went after the veteran quarterback.
Saunders and Shea undoubtedly convinced Rams head coach Scott Linehan that Green would be the perfect replacement for Gus Frerrote, the Rams' second-stringer a year ago. So, St. Louis made Green the highest paid backup in the NFL. He won't start for the Rams – the franchise already invested nearly $65 million in Marc Bulger last season.
Paying out those big bucks to Bulger now essentially looks like a waste of money, as the Rams won only three games last season (you'd think someone earning franchise-player money could deliver a few more). Adding Green ties up even more money – in addition to the guaranteed portion of his signing bonus, he can earn another $5 million in 2009 and 2010 merely by sitting on the bench.
Why are the NFL owners so upset that they've given 62 percent of the league's revenue to the players? Because they were dumb enough to hand it over willingly.
The NFL is dangerously close to becoming Major League Baseball. Gene Upshaw is the new Marvin Miller. If the owners don't get control of themselves, and quickly, this league we love will outprice the fan base that made it America's game.
You can't begrudge the players. When teams like the New York Jets give out $74 million in guarantees to free agents on the downside of their NFL prime and the Oakland Raiders pay part-time players $18 million in guarantees, it simply pleads ignorance, not fiscal responsibility.
The players won't complain about the huge signing bonuses given out to marginal talent since free agency began February 29. The owners, desperate to fill seats and stay competitive within their own divisions, can't help themselves.
The willingness to throw money at the situation is nothing new, of course. We've seen it in Kansas City in years past. But this year's Chiefs have wisely abstained from dumping truckloads of money into free agency. Unfortunately, they are in the minority.
At the end of the month owners will convene for their annual meetings. There's no doubt that 32 billionaires will plead their case for the system to change, and I agree with them 100 percent (regardless of who's fault it is).
The players make up the game, but running an NFL franchise isn't an inexpensive endeavor. Some people run them into the ground, while others run them with remarkable precision and accountability. But fair is fair. The NFL is a business, and with so many teams unable to play .500 football, do all the players deserve a majority of the projected revenues each year? They don't run the franchises and the quality of play isn't equal across 32 cities.
The bottom line is this - the NFL has become a sport that charges fans too much to attend games while asking taxpayers to assist in funding incredibly expensive stadiums. Meanwhile, the players have their hands out more than UNICEF.
All of this leads me to believe we'll see some kind of work stoppage in the near future, one that would surely turn off fans for the first time in nearly 20 years.
The NFL better learn from the power trip that nearly destroyed MLB. Baseball's owners banked on fans returning. If not for juiced balls, most wouldn't have. Now we know they sold the fans a bill of goods.
The NFL can't afford to take for granted or fool the fans as baseball did. There's too much money at stake and fans have become too wise after the steroid-induced mess that MLB currently finds itself in.
As for the players, they can live without some of the excess that's afforded to them at the moment. It would be for the greater long-term good of the players in the college ranks who haven't made their millions yet.
Both sides have to be in agreement on this one, and the financial split has to be more reasonable. It's time the players give back just a bit. The owners can't expect too much from the players given their irresponsible spending of late, but a middle ground must be found.
Let's hope they find one before it's too late.
NFL needs fiscal timeout
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