- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
They wouldn't dare. Would they? Would the players and the owners in the most lucrative league on the planet, with $9 billion in 2011 revenue at stake, play the biggest game of chicken in the history of sports labor? The NFL's collective bargaining agreement, negotiated in 2006 by commissioner Roger Goodell's predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, and former players association head Gene Upshaw, is set to expire in March 2011, and both sides want major changes in the way the sport is played and the money is shared. Football is a game of collisions, and there will be a series of them at bargaining tables on the East Coast over the next few months. If no agreement is reached by March, the owners could lock the players out. Or the union could decertify and file an antitrust suit. In either case there'd be no free-agent moves next spring, no minicamps, no contracts for draft picks—and worst-case scenario, no 2011 season.
Things are not off to a rousing start. Last week one influential NFL executive was bemoaning the state of the talks for a new CBA, acknowledging what he called the "nonexistent" progress in negotiations with the NFLPA, led by Upshaw's successor, DeMaurice Smith. "Nonexistent," he admitted wryly, is probably being optimistic. "We have to find a way to get De to see how good we all have it," the executive said. "We need to fix a few things, but we've got a great thing going."
While labor talk hangs over the 2010 season like a darkening cloud, don't look for an early resolution; these negotiations will be the most complicated in the 91-year history of the NFL, and many expect the real wheeling and dealing to wait until next July, on the verge of the 2011 season. Owners are looking to take $1 billion out of the revenue pool, and the players want more money for postcareer health care and for retired players. Where will that cash come from? Gentlemen, start your arguments.
The issues are manifold, but these are the four most important and difficult ones that the two sides will negotiate:
The billion-dollar giveback.
Because of declining public financial support for sports venues, owners have been borrowing like never before to construct new stadiums. In 1976 the Giants built $78 million Giants Stadium in New Jersey entirely with public funding, much of it from state bonds. The $1.6 billion New Meadowlands Stadium was built by the Giants and the Jets with practically no public funding; each team borrowed $800 million from banks and the league's stadium-financing account. Because personal seat licenses and other revenue sources won't be sufficient for owners to recoup all the money they've sunk into the stadium, they're asking for help from the players in the form of an additional $1 billion exemption from the revenue-sharing pool, estimated at $8 billion annually. That would bring the exempted fund to about $2.4 billion.
Owners are getting nowhere with this request. The players say, in effect, that workers aren't typically asked to help build factories, and they're not going to set a precedent.
The 18-game schedule.
On the surface, adding two games in a sport for which the public has an insatiable appetite doesn't seem like a big sticking point. But there are numerous complicating factors on the players' side—health care most notably.
Players with a minimum of three years' credited service now get five years of postcareer health coverage. The union argues that if the season is expanded, the three-year vesting time needs to be modified because players would be playing six more games in those three seasons. In a league in which the average career is 3.6 seasons, that's an important issue for hundreds of bubble players concerned with health after football. Also, coverage begins upon retirement, and the union says the first five years after retirement aren't when most long-term health issues arise. So it isn't just a case of the league's boosting players' salaries by 15% to account for the increase in games.