Packers would gain, then feel pain

Labor strife would help Packers now, but future could be bleak

For the short term, the NFL's labor unrest is bad for the Packers. For the long term, however, a solution that favors the owners is absolutely critical to the future of the franchise.

First, the short term.

The salary cap was supposed to be about $95 million. Many teams, however, when planning their budgets in advance, figured the cap would be much higher. Thus, many teams are over the cap. Quality veterans will be cut, and the Packers, about $22 million under the cap, will be among the few teams with tons of salary cap space.

While Packers general manager Ted Thompson has said he'd rather not be a big player in free agency, this could be a too-good-to-pass-up opportunity to get instantly better without hurting the team's future salary caps. That's because the supply of quality players on the streets will outweigh the demand, since a lot of players figure to be cut and only a handful of teams have significant cap space to pounce on them.

The Packers desperately need linebackers, especially after cutting Na'il Diggs. How about ex-49er Julian Peterson? Need a cornerback to replace hard-headed Ahmad Carroll? Hello, former Buffalo Bill Nate Clements. Running backs expensive (Seattle's Shaun Alexander) and modestly priced (former Bronco Mike Anderson) are available.

The bad news, however, is the league put free agency on hold until 11 p.m. Sunday Central time. That signals that a labor deal could come together, after all. That deal, however, would raise the salary cap to about $105 million. That means not as many teams will be over the salary cap. That means fewer good players will be released, and for the players who are on the street, there will be more suitors.

In short, supply will no longer outweigh demand.

So if no deal is made and free agency starts Sunday night with a salary cap of $95 million, the Packers will be a huge winner.

But only short term.

Long term, it could be a disaster.

If the collective-barganing agreement isn't extended in the next few days, then the 2007 season will be uncapped. For the short term, that's probably not a big deal since the Packers have plenty of money in reserve and are one of the league's higher-income teams.

Players union leader Gene Upshaw, however, has said once the salary cap is gone, it will never come back.

Perhaps it's just a bargaining ploy. If so, it's a good one. While the Packers are awash in money these days, that situation won't last forever. It's hard to imagine how the Packers can squeeze many more nickels out of Lambeau Field, short of, dare I say it, selling naming rights.

Long term, the Packers will fall from the top third of the league in income to the middle third and then, finally, to the bottom third. If the Packers can't afford to attract or keep top players, then they essentially have become the Milwaukee Brewers of football; a team that can contend only if all the stars are in alignment. Green Bay once again could become the NFL's version of Siberia.

Common sense says the players and the owners will come to their senses in the next couple of days and reach an agreement.

The league as a whole needs a salary cap so it can maintain its successful blueprint of any team being able to win in any given year. Teams, of course, want the cap to limit spending. Otherwise, as is the case in baseball, contracts will spiral out of control. A lot of high-salaried players, meantime, will pressure the union to reach a deal, lest they be released on Sunday and lose millions of dollars. Also, if the cap disappears, contractual language kicks in that pushes the date of unrestricted free agency from four years to six, and limits the number of years roster bonuses can be spread out — meaning smaller bonuses. The players won't want any of that.

The NFL not only is the most successful league, you could argue the NFL is the most successful business in the country. Everyone is getting rich, and it's hard to imagine both sides will cut off their noses to spite their faces.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


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