Representatives for the owners and players are scheduled to meet again this week in hopes of continuing their progress to a new labor agreement. The biggest issue, splitting revenues, seems to be coming into focus, but other matters remain.
The NFL and representatives of the artists formerly known as the NFL Players Association are scheduled to resume talks this week for a fifth round of meetings. While the meetings aren't all that secretive, one thing that hasn't been laid out is how close the two sides are on critical issues.
The main point of discussion in the recent series of clandestine negotiations has been how to divide the current $9 billion annual revenue stream that is expected to grow when new TV contracts are negotiated in 2014. While the leaks from the meetings have indicated the sides are close to an agreement on that key sticking point, there are a lot of other issues that could potentially sideline a deal.
Among those is a rookie salary cap. While it would seem both sides would be in agreement – neither owners nor veteran players like the idea of a rookie like Sam Bradford
signing a contract that guarantees him $50 million – it isn't that easy. Such mega-contracts are only given out to the top dozen or so draft picks and don't typically apply to players taken outside of the first round. The problem won't be solved by simply lowering the top numbers, it will be trying to find equity that would raise the minimums for lower-round rookies and put a hold on the top-end guarantees. The players association isn't looking to lower the threshold of what rookies can earn, but the issue is more in finding parity throughout the rosters of the NFL, not limit what a player may be worth on the open market. As a result of the investment being made in guarantees, most rookie contracts among those paid the most are six-year deals. The debate may well center on lowering the length of first-round contracts to get to free agency quicker. There are several points within this one issue that could slow down or, in a worse-case scenario, be a deal-breaker if both sides can't reach a compromise.
There are several other issues similar to the rookie salary cap that are going to be facing both the owners and the players, ranging from revenue streams (current and future) to owners displaying more transparency in opening their books to pension and benefit packages after the recent admission to the extent of damage that concussions can have on players later in life. Each of them could potentially be a stumbling block.
What has brought this matter into focus is that two teams – the Chicago Bears
and St. Louis Rams
– are both expected to report to training camp on July 15, just 19 days from now. For the NFL teams to report to camp and free agents to be signed, it would likely require at least a couple of weeks of advance time to get a flurry of signings done – both of veteran free agents and undrafted players. Under that scenario, a deal will likely have to be finalized by the first week of July to keep the 2011 season in its intended form.
Despite recent optimism – any progress is progress – it appears as though the two sides are negotiating their way through the issues. The biggest issue – how to divide $9 billion – would appear to be getting closer to resolution. But the secondary issues that have been pushed back in the pecking order are now getting their day outside of court. One by one, both sides will have to reach an agreement on those, which likely won't kill a new collective bargaining agreement, but is likely to delay final approval. Until they get through the "minor" issues, some of them could become major pains.
Christian Ponder has a busy holiday weekend coming up. His work at the IMG training facility in Bradenton, Fla. concludes this week, but his schedule remains hectic. On Wednesday and Thursday, he will be attending the reinstated Rookie Symposium at the IMG facility. On Thursday, he will be doing promotional work for Gatorade. He will then attend a family reunion in Tennessee of the Fourth of July weekend before heading to the Peyton Manning passing camp in Louisiana Wednesday-Thursday, July 7-8. This is supposed to be a slow time for players, but, when you're a first-round rookie, the appointment book is pretty filled all the time.
One of the concerns there have been among coaches and general managers over the lockout has been that players could suffer significant injuries working out on their own. Although he is scheduled for free agency, the first casualty may be wide receiver Terrell Owens. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that T.O. suffered a torn ACL earlier in the offseason and had surgery to fix it. The injury is alleged to have happened when Owens was taping a reality-show segment for VH1.
A former T.O. teammate – Chad Ochocinco – is just as intrigued with the spotlight. One would have thought his dabbling in the daredevil lifestyle would have ended when he didn't stay on a bull for eight seconds – he stayed on for about eight-tenths of one second. But attention-hungry Ochocinco now claims he will wrestle an alligator. Given his last animal encounter, one can only hope the gator in question is pre-tranquilized.
The NFL Network is rating the top 100 players for 2011 and, after Aaron Rodgers checked in at No. 11, we now know who the top 10 players are, just not the order. They include Adrian Peterson, the only running back on the list. The other nine players deemed the top players for the coming season include quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, wide receiver Andre Johnson, defensive end Julius Peppers, linebacker Ray Lewis, cornerback Darrelle Revis and safeties Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed.
It seems ironic that the only positions that are represented in the top 10 that have more than one player in the group are quarterback and safety. Top college safeties annually fall on draft day and are rarely lottery-type picks. Reed was taken with the 22nd pick in the 2002 draft and Polamalu was taken with the 16th pick the following year. Perhaps given the success rate at the safety position among those taken high in the draft, a newfound respect for top safety draft prospects will increase their value on draft day in the coming years. Guys like Polamalu and Reed have been difference-makers at the position and others like LaRon Landry, Nick Collins and, when healthy, Bob Sanders, have proved to be playmakers that can tilt a close game. Even from the Vikings' perspective, was it a coincidence that the Saints defense made a big-play jump forward after signing Darren Sharper? He got his ring. The Vikings didn't.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.