Irony Surrounds CBA Opt-Out

When NFL owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement, there were also contract signings that flew in the face of their opt-out statement. Still, labor peace will ultimately depend on the owners and players' ability to compromise.

Ironies seem to happen a lot in the National Football League.

Back in March, at the league's annual meeting in posh Palm Beach, Fla., Commissioner Roger Goodell talked about the difficult economic climate that was making it hard for member clubs to deal with the current extension of the collective bargaining agreement that was negotiated in March 2006.

That same day, Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga announced he had sold half of the team, stadium and surrounding land for $550 million. That put the total value at $1.1 billion for those who have a hard time multiplying by two.

Fast forward two months, and Goodell sang the same song Tuesday when revealing the owners had voted unanimously to opt out of the final two years of the current agreement.

"I think it's a very clear signal that the ownership doesn't believe that this deal is working," Goodell said. "It's important for us all to sit down at the table and try to address the matters that aren't working for the ownership. I think there's a very strong opinion in the ownership and I think the vote reflects that."

One of those owners, Jerry Jones of the Cowboys, said, "We obviously feel that the spirit of the agreement was for either side to opt out if it's not working for them. And it's not working for us."

Which brings us to Irony No. 2. That same day, Jones agreed to contracts with running back Marion Barber and cornerback Terence Newman worth a total of $95.2 million with guarantees totaling $38.5 million.

In a league release about the opt out, one of the issues mentioned was the escalating contracts of high draft picks. As if to point out just how crazy those deals can be, Falcons owner Arthur Blank agreed Tuesday to pay quarterback Matt Ryan $34.75 million in guarantees on a six-year, $72 million deal.

Sure feels like a league in crisis.

NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw insists the players won't give back revenues won in 2006 bargaining when he was able to increase the salary cap by including all league revenue in the pool. The cap was $85.5 million in 2005 and will be $123 million in 2009.

The league insists it simply wants a "more fair and equitable deal." One, of course, that pays the players less.

So, where is this headed? Without an extension, 2009 will be the last season with a salary cap and signing bonuses in contracts will only be able to be prorated for five years. In 2010, there won't be a salary cap, but there won't be a salary minimum either. While the perception is the large-revenue teams will open their checkbooks even more, the reality is there are only so many top players it makes sense to add.

The open market won't be as open, with some teams simply scaling their payrolls back and spending much less. In addition, there will be restrictions on the top four and top eight teams from the season before for signing free agents, and players will need six accrued seasons to be unrestricted free agents. In addition, teams will have the ability to designate two franchise or transition players.

There is also the likelihood the union would decertify as it did in the early 1990s. That allowed individual players to sue the league on antitrust issues, and resulted in the current salary-cap system.

Few believe it will ever come to that. While Upshaw noted the real deadline for a new agreement is before the 2010 league year, the start of the 2006 league year was delayed because the owners didn't want to deal with the realities of what would make business difficult in the final year of a cap. That makes the next nine months before March 2009 vital in terms of avoiding that last capped season.

Might Upshaw and the players compromise on issues regarding rookie salaries and a possible 17th game? It would make sense.

Denver Broncos safety John Lynch told the Rocky Mountain News, "I'm with them on that (rookie wage scale). I'd like to come up with an NBA system where you put a cap on the rookies. I can see the owners' problem there. You look at JaMarcus Russell. He may turn out to be an awesome quarterback, but you're investing $60 million right off the bat. It's reached the point where everyone who picks in the top five wants to get the heck out of there. I would like to see that pool of money redistributed."

Still, what Goodell didn't mention Tuesday when he talked about trying to address "matters that aren't working for the ownership," was how one of the biggest issues is in their own house. Even if Goodell denies that is the case. The gap is only growing between the large-revenue teams and smaller markets. Increased revenue from new stadiums in Dallas and New York can add millions to the salary cap, which all teams have to pay.

As Upshaw said when asked whether league revenue sharing is at the heart of the problem, "It always will be and it always has. As I told players this fall, (owners) hate paying the players, but they hate paying and sharing with each other even more than they hate paying the players. That's always going to be there."

That is, until Goodell finds a way to make it work.

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