It was good of Commissioner Roger Goodell to come to Green Bay for Thursday's shareholders meeting. With Packers President Mark Murphy's history as a player and as a former vice president of the NFLPA — not to mention that Green Bay's financial records are the only ones opened to the players — the Packers are going to have a central role in preventing a bunch of billionaires and millionaires from roasting their Golden Goose on a spit.
Goodell took questions from the "owners" during a 30-minute session inside the stadium at the end of the meeting, met with reporters for another 12 minutes, then took more questions from 120 hand-picked fans and shareholders in the Atrium for an NFL Network program that aired on Thursday night.
On the surface, it seemed like a good idea, even thought it was equally apparent that Goodell's visit was just part of the NFL's propaganda battle with the union.
At the end of the day, Goodell will win the public war of words. If death and taxes are the only certainties in life, then Joe Sports Fan siding with the owners over the players in a labor dispute is about on the same level. With unemployment around 10 percent, countless others worried about their job security, millions of houses in foreclosure and retirement accounts taking a beating, the union won't get much sympathy when the average player is making $1.896 million.
Like, gee, would it kill the players to even take a 10 percent pay cut? A 20 percent pay cut?
So, of course, one of the big applause lines of the day came when Murphy cited the runaway salaries going to rookies. Murphy pointed to Sports Illustrated's recent "Fortunate Fifty" listing of the 50 highest-paid athletes. Fifteen of those athletes play football, and five of those were rookies. Topping the NFL list was Detroit's first-round draft pick, Matthew Stafford.
"The salaries for the rookies have grown at such a rate that it really creates problems," Murphy said. "It's not good for management, it's not good for the union. We'd rather have money going to proven veterans than unproven rookies."
The union no doubt would agree with that notion, assuming there was a guarantee that the owners wouldn't simply pocket the savings. Besides, it's not as if the rookies and their agents are negotiating by themselves. Year after year, the owners complain. Year after year, they sign those first-round picks to richer contracts.
Roger Goodell and Mark Murphy
Bill Huber/Packer Report
It's nothing but the same-old drivel. When the Packers unveiled their financial report a couple weeks ago, it revealed a disturbing trend. Player costs had risen by 16 percent and the profit from operations had dropped by more than half, even though the team had trimmed the rest of its expenses by about $1.7 million.
That's not a good business model. The NFLPA's response? That's only one team out of 32.
It's almost as if NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith closed his eyes, plugged his ears and gleefully sang, "la, la, la, la" to drown out the facts.
On the other side of the coin, Goodell claims the Packers' financial picture matches what's going on with the rest of the league. Of course, the other 31 teams won't open their books, so, apparently, the players are supposed to just trust the teams that they're this close to having the players use their towels twice because they can no longer afford to do the laundry on a daily basis. Oh, and I hope you don't mind flying coach.
For all of the doom and gloom, Goodell offered this nonsensical response when asked about the possibility of there being no football next season.
"Listen, we are so far away from that," the commish said. "We have an entire season of football and a lot of negotiations. We have a lot of work to do, but a lot of time to get it done, and I think there is a desire on everybody's part to make sure we continue to play football."
So, the NFL's house is on fire but it's just a small one at this point. No need to call the fire department. Plenty of time to call the neighbors and form a bucket brigade.
Let's hope that the in-person talks are going better than the public huffing and puffing makes it seem. When the Packers are worried about a profit of "only" $5.2 million and the players are worried about losing a little of their millions, common sense says there should be a middle ground.
In other words, the Golden Goose had better find a safe hiding place.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.