CBA talk, longer season, Tomlin's gripe, Dr. Z fundraiser and more
Without Dan Rooney and the late Gene Upshaw, CBA talk will be tough
Mike Tomlin still has not addressed his team since their Super Bowl win
How the NFL rich are getting richer, 10 Things I Think I Think and more
LOS ANGELES -- Leftovers from an all-business annual NFL meetings, with some news about an event to help the good Dr. Z heal thyself ... and with 26 days before the draft, what would MMQB be without a nugget or two about the fate of the Lions at No. 1:
The NFL is in trouble without Dan Rooney and Gene Upshaw running these CBA negotiations.
Two scenes from the league meetings I'll remember for a while:
Tuesday night, Mozambique restaurant, Laguna Beach, Calif.: Every year at the meetings, the Rooney family invites a select group of Steelers club officials, league officials and media to dinner in a private room. It's a low-key affair with a toast, stories and an early exit because this isn't a wild crowd; everyone wants to be up early the next day.
A few of the guests christened this one "The Last Supper'' because Rooney has been nominated by President Obama to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. At one table, Roger Goodell and wife, Jane Skinner, sat across from Rooney and his wife, Pat. "Dan, I'm going to miss those 9 a.m. phone calls,'' Goodell said, referring to the agenda-setting advisory phone calls Rooney's been making to Goodell every weekday for the past 20 months, since he took the reins as commissioner. Rooney has been Goodell's mentor, his bench coach.
Wednesday afternoon, outside the meeting room at the Dana Point, Calif., hotel where the NFL was about to adjourn. Rooney took out his cell phone and played a message he'd kept from the late Upshaw for three years, a message that was meaningful to him because it conveyed the art of the deal and the mutual trust the two men had. I listened, and there was Upshaw talking about what it was going to take to get the deal done, spoken like a man who'd been through this 100 times before.
I'm not saying we're on a collision course for a job action in 2011, though I do think some work stoppage is more likely than not. Goodell is smart, and everyone says DeMaurice Smith, the new head of the NFLPA, is smart, too. But I think Goodell was sorely disappointed when Troy Vincent wasn't elected executive director, because he knew Vincent and felt he could find common ground to make a deal with him. But the player reps elected Smith because they wanted him to take a tough stand with the league and not give anything back in the wake of the owners opting out of the current collective bargaining agreement.
Upshaw died last August. Rooney is all but certain to be confirmed for the Ireland post. So last week, everyone in the league was trying to take the temperature of what it all meant. And no one thought it was good. There's no natural mediator available in the league right now. Surely one can, and probably will, emerge. But will it be one the players know and trust the way many of them trust Rooney, who tries to see their side of the story as clearly as he sees the owners' side?
One of the issues in the negotiations will be the amount of debt the owners have built up over the past few years. I'm told the 32 teams owe a combined $8 billion for money they've borrowed for stadium construction and other infrastructure improvements and practice-facility costs. That's about $250 million per team. And the players have always had the attitude -- which I can see too -- that, yes, the owners do have massive debt issues, but at the end of the day, that debt, once it's paid, is going to make the owners' franchises worth all that much more.
The owners are going to have the attitude that they've got this huge debt service per year, and they're incurring this debt service to grow the game, and so this debt has to be taken into account when figuring the total salary cap and salary floor per year. I know it's complicated, but that's the nut issue here. I think Rooney would have been the best man to tell the players that compromise is essential on this issue or there's not going to be a deal.
There was talk at the meetings that Rooney would still be a big factor in the negotiations. But I'm told if Rooney is approved, he's going to be more than just a glad-handing diplomat; he's actually going to live primarily in Ireland (many ambassadors split time nearly equally between America and their posts) and devote his time to the job. In his absence, I think Rooney will be available to advise the league, but Goodell's going to need another Kissinger to be a shuttle diplomat between owners and players.
Maybe it'll be New England owner Bob Kraft. I think it's a job Kraft would love. Maybe it's Rooney's son and successor with the Steelers, Art Rooney II, a quiet consigliere devoted to the league. It could be Houston owner Bob McNair, an even-tempered deal-maker, or John Mara of the Giants. Kraft has the deal-making power. Art Rooney, McNair and Mara might have the long-haul calm to broker a deal in what could likely be contentious negotiations.
"I'm not willing to say they're going to be contentious,'' Rooney said as the meetings wrapped up. "Difficult, yes, but we have a chance to do a deal that's going to last a long time.''
As for who will become the mediator to replace him, Rooney himself said: "Someone will step up. Someone always steps up.'' That's the hope of this $7-billion-a-year business.
The league isn't leveling with fans on the idea of a 17- or 18-game schedule.
Roger Goodell keeps saying the idea of 17 regular-season games with three in the preseason, or 18 and two exhibitions, is just another way of playing the 20 games that are already scheduled. Wrong. It's wrong because starters would be playing the full game in the 17th and 18th regular-season games, and now they play, on average, a quarter of each preseason game.
I looked up how much two big stars, Adrian Peterson and Carson Palmer, played in the preseason. (I looked up Tom Brady, too. Remember how he was supposed to have a bad foot that kept him out of the Patriots' four preseason games, while, coincidentally, the Patriots were trying to make final decision on what roles, if any, Matt Cassel and Matt Gutierrez would have with the team? Anyway, Brady never played a snap in the preseason, though I saw him practice full bore and competitively one day in August during training camp.)
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