While almost everyone in NFL circles seems ready to acknowledge that the upcoming season will be an uncapped year with no extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, there also seems to be little progress being made to avoid a lockout in 2011.
In fact, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said last week that on a scale of 1 to 10, he'd rank the likelihood of a lockout at 14. That could just be union posturing, but it paints a picture of pessimism.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is at least trying to encourage the negotiating process.
"We have to sit at the table and we have to get an agreement that works for everybody. And that's what people expect. They expect solutions, and I think it's our responsibility to sit down at that table and work out the issues," Goodell said. "I think there's been a lot of dialogue, but we need productivity. We need to get those solutions on the table and start getting to an agreement, because that's what our fans want. They want solutions, and that's what we should deliver."
Owners opted out of the current CBA two years ago and now the league and players are a crossroads. The owners want to reduce the pool of money that player salaries are drawn from because of increased costs involved with stadiums and expanding the game. Players are getting about 60 percent of the defined gross revenues from the 32 clubs to go toward their salaries and benefits.
While the salary cap has increased from $80 million in 2005 to $128 million in 2009, owners say expenses involved with NFL Network, NFL.com, stadium loans and growing the game internationally have led to increased costs that made the profit margins for owners thinner by the season.
According to Goodell, revenues have increased by $3.6 billion since 2006 (when the current CBA was extended), but $2.6 billion of that has gone to the players.
"The owners are actually $200 million worse off than they were in 2006. So the system is not working for at least one side of the equation. And that's the point. You have to have a system that works for everybody here," he said. "… (The NFLPA has) acknowledged in our meetings which I was in, that the owners and the clubs are being squeezed. The costs have risen dramatically. Not only in player costs but also outside of that and that the economics really aren't working. And I think we've been very open with them. We will continue to be transparent."
The union continues to want the league to open up all of their financial figures to the NFLPA, but the league maintains that the union has the numbers they need to see why the current deal isn't working for the owners.
In 2006, the start of free agency was delayed a few days while the two sides rushed to an agreement. With the increased efforts to expand the game, the downturn in the economy and increased stadium costs, the owners don't believe they can operate under that 2006 agreement any longer.
"I think there are a lot of owners asking the same question: Why did I vote for this agreement? I think it demonstrated that they were looking to try to extend the relationship with the players, continue what has been a very successful model, but they made some significant changes in that agreement that I think a lot of owners regret and have to get fixed," Goodell said. "I think that's exactly what their message is. There are things that we agreed to that we shouldn't have. We need to go back and get that fixed. There are a lot of changes in the NFL economics over the years. Most specifically, the investments they are making in stadiums and operating those stadiums and the capital improvements required for those stadiums. That takes a significant investment that we didn't have 20 years ago and our system has to recognize that."
Smith claims that the league has been taking steps that indicated they are preparing for a lockout in 2011, citing provisions in the television contracts that say the league would continue to get paid for those broadcasting rights next year even if there aren't games.
Jeff Pash, the NFL director of labor/legal counsel, says those kinds of provisions have been in the league's television contracts for decades and that the league would have to decrease their income from those deals in future years.
Goodell said the owners don't want a work stoppage.
"I don't think anybody wants to see a work stoppage. …There are no benefits to that. It is a negative," he said. "It is a negative for our fans and frankly if it comes to anything like that, we would all have failed and I think we have to work. That is why we are determined and committed to be able to reach a fair agreement. The players should be paid fairly and they should be paid well. We should do everything we can to continue to find ways to invest in the game and hopefully make it beneficial to everybody."
"… The idea that ownership would be anxious for a work stoppage is absolutely false. You don't make money by shutting down your business. It's a bad scenario for everybody. I can assure you the ownership and I believe the players — in talking to individual players — want to get an agreement and want to work to do that."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
NFL, NFLPA laboring over a deal
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