But the problem isn't just in a dip in ticket sales; it's a decrease in, well, actual stadium attendance. By policy, most franchises no longer report actual, in-stadium attendance publicly or to the media. The Sports Xchange is working to compile the actual figures, at least from the stadiums owned or operated by local government entities, but some officials privately concede a few clubs averaged 5,000 or so "no-shows" in 2011.
And there are some league and team officials who consider the problem of people buying tickets and still staying away from games nearly as critical as the issue of fans not purchasing tickets at all.
The first round stalemates involve so-called "offset language" and the hurdle in the third stanza is the players' attempts to maximize the 25-percent increases in their base salaries. It appears that in all the cases, the negotiations won't be resolved quickly but should be completed before training camps begin in roughly three weeks.
An agent for multiple first- and third-round picks, however, allowed this week that discussions are "slow going" with "little movement" from the franchises involved. There were, on Friday morning, just 32 of 253 picks who were still unsigned: 14 in the first round, three in the second, 13 in the third and one each in the fourth and fifth rounds. The rookie wage scale certainly has accomplished part of its intent, in getting deals done on time, but there could still be a straggler or two, given the slow pace in the first and third rounds.
The FCS-level school may have landed another possible high-round choice on Thursday, however, when former Georgia tailback Isaiah Crowell transferred to the school after being booted off the Bulldogs' squad by coach Mark Richt following an arrest.
There is a big "but" that's attached, though, to the back. Crowell, the highest-rated high school runner in the country a year ago, and the SEC freshman of the year in 2011 when he rushed for 850 yards and five touchdowns, "might have" first-round potential, according to one NFC area scout. But the scout, and several colleagues, emphasized that Crowell, who suffered disciplinary problems in his first college season, will have to rehabilitate his image considerably over the next few seasons.
"A guy as good as he was supposed to be ... yeah, you start filing away some mental notes even at this early point in his career," a personnel director indicated on Thursday evening. "And the word we're getting was that he was a royal pain at Georgia. He's got a few years now before he's draft-eligible, and (scouts) will be watching him as much for what he does of the field as how well he plays on it. Here's hoping this (matures) him."
"The (Wright) deal could be a tough one, but (Schiano) is serious about cleaning some stuff up," one team official told The Sports Xchange this week.
The Bucs invested a five-year, $38 million contract in Wright, so that might complicate matters a bit. And the team may still have to deal with league discipline for fellow cornerback Aqib Talib, even though authorities have dismissed an aggravated assault charge against him.
"It's something Greg is going to have to work through, but his message won't change," the official said.
We suggested last week that the four-year, $13.2 million contract to which Tampa Bay recently signed Connor Barth might be a negotiating point in some of the other kicker-related negotiations, because the Bucs' standout landed the deal even though punter Michael Koenen kicks off.
But Prater, who does kick off, and had 47 touchbacks in 2011, took a deal worth $200,000 less in total compensation than the one Barth got. Over the past 41 games, which corresponded to the same period in which Barth played for Tampa Bay, Prater connected on 81.0 percent of his field-goal attempts. Barth was slightly better, at 84.0 percent.
It will be interesting to see how much the kickoff factor impacts Josh Scobee's contract negotiations with Jacksonville, which have resumed after a long hiatus. Scobee has privately noted the kickoff role and its importance in discussions with Jaguars officials.
The other two "franchised" kickers, we're told, Phil Dawson of Cleveland and Cincinnati's Mike Nugent, probably aren't as affected. It's doubtful the Bengals will have any kind of long-term discussions with Nugent before the start of the season. Cleveland and Dawson appear content to work off the one-year franchise tender, as they did last season.
Of course, the caveat is that the Browns, because of the recent ruling in favor of Drew Brees, would have to pay Dawson 144 percent of his $3.81 million salary if he was designated a franchise player for a third time. That would be $5.49 million. So for Dawson, who will be 38 before next year's franchise deadline, there probably won't be a third franchise marker, or maybe a long-term deal, either.