It's vitriol season. So what else is new?
MARCO ISLAND, Fla. -- I'm pretty sure I can explain why the players have responded to the owners' offer of 10 days ago with such contempt. (Although NFLPA executive director De Smith's claim on WFAN the other day of this being "the worst deal in the history of sports'' is laughable. That's the kind of statement he'll rue whenever the real deal comes down, because much of that offer is likely to be close to some of the next CBA's terms.)
The players, for some time, have been offering four capped seasons, beginning in 2011 at $151 million per team for players' pay plus benefits and ending in 2014 at $161 million per team, along with a percentage of the increased revenue if that revenue exceeds 5.5 percent in the first two years and 4 percent in the last two. The NFL, before the talks broke down 10 days ago, had an offer on the table of $131 million per team with profit-sharing after a certain increase in revenue, rising to $161 million in the fourth year. (The exact split of the excess revenue was under discussion; it would have likely been around 50-50.) In the owners' proposal 10 days ago, they said they'd raise the 2011 cap to $141 million, up $10 million from their previous offer, without including a backside to the deal; there'd be a chance to make incentives again in 2015, an ownership source said Sunday.
Players want a shot at a percentage of excessive profits in every year of the deal. Owners aren't offering it. Yet. Who's to say they won't? I said at the time and I repeat now: These talks should not have broken off. I've seen player after player bash the last offer ownership made, and as I said last week, I'm a firm believer that redacted financial statements should be given to an independent auditor and examined to see what goes into the NFL's profit numbers. But to criticize a proposal that all but dropped the 18-game regular-season as a proposal (players would have to agree for an expanded season to become reality), added a neutral arbitrator (not a league exec) to referee drug and steroid appeals, and appeared to significantly increase a vested player's health benefits for life. Trashing this proposal, to me, means more you're going to have to take back someday.
"That offer by us was not intended to be take-it-or-leave-it,'' negotiating committee member John Mara said in New Orleans Sunday. "We stood ready to talk about all parts of the offer, and I wish we had been able to. But they didn't come back to talk about it. There were some things in that offer that a lot of our [owners] might not have liked very much. We moved off 18 games. We'd only go to 18 if they approved it.''
Yet when the players responded Saturday to a Roger Goodell e-mail to all NFL players, the e-mail read in part: "You continued to ask for an 18-game season.''
If the owners say the only way to get an 18-game schedule is for the players to agree to it, and the players are adamant they will not, I don't call that insisting on an 18-game schedule.
What we have here, a wise man once said, is a failure to communicate.
On Friday here, I asked a couple of player reps, Eric Winston of Houston and Gary Brackett of the Colts, how they viewed player solidarity in the wake of that owners' proposal.
"The solidarity comes across when they see the [owners' proposed] deal,'' Winston said. "We keep our guys well-informed after every meeting or every development. Guys just want information. A while back, De told us, 'Guys, there's a good chance they'll lock you out. Be prepared for it.' So there's no panic, no blistering phone calls, from our guys.''
"I got into it with one guy on Twitter,'' Brackett said. "He was saying things like, 'This is BS, what you guys are doing.' I asked him what he did for a living. He said he's a car salesman. I asked him if he sold a car, did the buyer have a right to see the CARFAX report. Of course he did. That's what we want to see -- the financials. It's the same thing.''
OK. I'm not one of those who say the two sides should get back to the table right now. It would be fruitless, because the players are waiting to see if their request for an injunction is granted in federal court April 6. If it is, and if the owners lose the appeal in the case, the players would likely be able to walk back into work while their antitrust case is heard, and the league year would begin. Until we have a decision there, I wouldn't expect the players to be motivated to negotiate. But if the players don't go two-for-two in court next month, the two sides need to get back to work. There's a deal to be made here.
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