"I'm not going to make any proclamations of what's going to happen and what's not," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in response on Friday during his annual Super Bowl press conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "There has been a lot of discussion in the public, including by DeMaurice, that salary cap has been good for the players, it's been good for the game. I would hope that he doesn't take things off the table that are good for the game and that we all sit down and try to be reasonable and try to be fair."
As it stands, because the teams opted out of the collective bargaining agreement that they agreed to on a 30-2 vote in March 2006, the CBA expires in March 2011 and there will be no salary cap for the 2010 season.
The salary cap is a huge issue for the small-market Packers. While they continually have ranked among the top 10 teams when it comes to revenue, every time a new stadium opens, the Packers lose some of the advantage gained with the renovated Lambeau Field.
The disappearance of the salary cap, however, wouldn't necessarily turn the NFL into a Major League Baseball-style league of haves and have-nots.
"There are a lot of factors that are negotiated in there with the Players Association to make sure that the game remains competitive. It's not the only way to keep the game competitive, with a salary cap," Goodell said, alluding to rules changes going into effect when free agency opens on March 5 that include moving the date of unrestricted free agency from four years to six and restrictions on the final eight playoffs teams in signing unrestricted free agents.
"There are a lot of restrictions on free agency that are negotiated, things that can be done to make sure our games stay strong, and I think the uncapped year, if we get there, will continue to be great football."
The Packers will be front and center in negotiations. As the only publicly owned team, the Packers' financial records are the only ones that are open for all to see.
It's a point Smith drove home on Thursday. The Packers turned a profit of about $23 million in 2008, "with no Brett Favre and a losing season."
The Packers' profit in the last fiscal-year, however, was $4 million, the team announced on June 20. The $19 million decrease stemmed from rising player salaries — a $14 million increase, the team reported — as well investment losses and declining sales at the Packers Pro Shop.
Goodell claims some owners have lost money, in part because of stadium costs and in part because of a sagging economy taking a bite out of ticket sales and advertising. But without open books from all of the teams, Smith isn't buying it, claiming that teams have increased in value by about 500 percent in the last 15 years.
The CBA agreed to in 2005 gave the players a 59 percent share of league revenues. According to Smith, though, the players are getting only 52 percent, with the discrepancy going toward stadium costs. That, according to Smith, is a smaller share than the players received in 2001. Now, Smith said the NFL wants to decrease the players' share by 18 percent, which would work out to a per-player pay cut of $340,000.
Goodell challenged that claim, saying the owners are asking for an 18 percent "cost recognition" of investments such as stadium construction and improvements. Those stadium costs are a huge factor, Goodell said, with those investments meaning more money for everybody.
"What is important is for them to understand, and we have shared with them the basic economic data to say the system isn't working. Right now, the important number to focus on is since the 2006 agreement was struck, we have generated $3.6 billion in incremental revenue, additional revenue. $2.6 (billion) of that has gone to the players. The owners are actually $200 million worse off than they were in 2006. So, the system is not working for at least one side of the equation. And that's the point. You have to have a system that works for everybody here."
Talks are ongoing but both sides say nothing substantive has been accomplished. During Thursday's news conference, receiver Chad Ochocinco asked Smith what the chance of a lockout is on a scale of 1 to 10. Smith's answer was "14."
Goodell said he hopes it doesn't come to that. The wild card in negotiations, as Packers President Mark Murphy told Packer Report during last summer's Tailgate Tour, would be expanding the season from 16 regular-season games (with four preseason games) to 18 (with two preseason games). That would create more revenue.
"The restructured season is something that we give a lot of consideration, for a variety of reasons," Goodell said. "One is the quality of what we do. I consistently hear from players and fans that the quality of our preseason is not up to NFL standards and that we need to fix that, we need to address that. This is one way of doing that, and what I believe is an effective way.
"I think that we're staying within a 20-game format. We improve the quality of what we're offering our fans, and what we're asking our fans to pay for. I think there's a real strong logic behind all of that that needs further consideration. We spend a great deal of time talking with our partners about it, including the players, and it's something that we'll be discussing in the context of a collective bargaining agreement."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.