When NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw fired his strong words Thursday about the union being ready for anything regarding a potential labor problem later this year, among those who weren't surprised was former Viking Scottie Graham.
Graham is one of four regional directors for the NFLPA and alluded to the potential labor problems late in the season in an interview with Viking Update. As part of his duties with the NFLPA these days, Graham meets with players from NFL teams to update them on union activities and educate them on life off the football field.
"We meet once a year with all the teams; can have up to three on campus, according to the CBA," Graham said, then added this nugget that he didn't want to expand upon. "Might have to meet a little bit more, with management indicating they want to blow the deal up."
A couple months later, Graham's boss, Upshaw, fired out some strong words Thursday before his Super Bowl press conference.
The players and owners delayed free agency in 2006 by several days in order to reach a labor agreement and avoided a season without a salary cap. However, that collective bargaining agreement gave both sides the options to tear up the deal in November 2008. If either side would do that and a new deal couldn't be reached, the 2010 season would be an uncapped year and the CBA would expire in 2011.
"If they want to get out of the deal, there's nothing we can do about it," Upshaw told the Associated Press. "But we'll be prepared."
"At our meeting in March, our priorities for discussion are four options: strike, lockout, decertification or extension."
The situation may not be as dire as it might seem. Tony Richardson, the Vikings' player representative for the union, was asked about Graham's comments at the end of the season and said the players were fine with the CBA that was negotiated in 2006, but the owners might be the ones to opt out of the agreement.
Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen is among the owners that have expressed concerns that the current CBA is leaving some small-market teams – like his Broncos – short on cash. Local advertising, concessions and parking are among the revenue streams that arsn't shared between the teams. The Vikings don't receive any revenue from parking, as most of the spaces around the Metrodome are owned by private corporations other than the Vikings. Just last year the Vikings got out of a deal to purchase some more land around the Metrodome, citing financial factors that didn't make the deal plausible for them.
"Everyone's doing well," Upshaw told the AP. "The owners say they're not making money. I think everyone is making money. This isn't hockey, where the players agreed to a 25 percent pay cut. We're not going to do anything like that."
The players won the right to free agency with a 1993 collectively bargained agreement, and the 2006 agreement was another big win for the players. The salary cap has increased significantly since that deal. In 1994, the cap was $34.6 million. It jumped from $41.45 million in 1997 to $52.3 million in 1998 with a new national television deal, and it went from $85.5 million in 2005 to $102 million in 2006 with the negotiating of the current CBA. In 2007, the cap was $107 million and it is expected to be $116 million for 2008.
Upshaw has come under fire the past couple of years for being too cozy with NFL management, but Graham, an ardent Upshaw supporter, said that isn't a problem with Upshaw and Goodell.
"I don't know how cozy they are now with they're talking about blowing the deal up in 2008," Graham said. "He and Paul (Tagliabue, former NFL commissioner) had a personal relationship outside of business so when people saw them together they assumed they were fuzzy, fuzzy. Business is never personal. Now, he and Roger, I don't know if they have a personal relationship. I don't think they do."
Former Viking Saw Labor Strife Possibilities
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