The Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFLPA and the leauge expires on the first week of March. Without a new agreement the entire NFL comes to a standstill, except for the 2011 NFL Draft, which is planned for April. If the standstill continues through the summer, there remains a possibility that the 2011 NFL season will be delayed or cancelled. This would be one of the worse times of my life, as a die hard football fan, but is it actually going to happen? Or are cooler heads going to prevail.
I have decided to take a look at the logistics of the CBA. This certain aspect of the NFL may seem a little monotone to the average football fan, but as 49er faith fulls, and the new found excitement in regards to Harbaugh, it is important that we know the logistics of the situation and follow the talks as they take hold. There really are a lot of different variables that come into play in regards to the CBA, many of the issues are necessary for the enhancement of what has become the most popular professional sports organization in the country.
The NFL is having one of its best financial years in its history. TV ratings are at its highest in history, and the stands couldn't be more filled. A work stoppage would cost the league, and the players billions of dollars and threaten to derail the positives that have enhanced the NFL brand over the last two plus decades. It wouldn't be cost efficient for the owners to lockout the players, and comparatively, it would be tragic for the players to play with the hearts and mind of the fans that so root them on. All signs point to the necessity of an agreement within the next month or so, but this doesn't mean that it is actually going to happen.
1. Owners want to expand the regular season to 18 games, while lowering the amount of pre-season games to two. This would bring in extra revenue for the owners in the form of ticket sales, and TV ratings. But, the players want an increase in the minimum salary because of the two extra games. I really don't think this is going to be much of an issue, at least not the primary issue in regards to the CBA. Something should be agreed to here, as i am sure many fans would be happy with two extra games to watch. Games that actually mean something, i think all 49ers fans can agree that four or five pre-season games is just over doing it.
2. Another major aspect of the CBA is how the league treats former players. This in the form of retirement packages and healthcare for players that have been injured on the field. It is absolutely disgusting that the owners, and the league have no treated these ex players with the compassion and decency necessary. Too many times we have heard about long term brain and motor skill issues with former players, the vast amount coming in the form of concussions and the after effect of these horrible injuries.
NFLPA General Counsel Richard Berthelseninquired as to "whether it is in fact true that the owners intend to cease paying the players’ health insurance premiums if there is no new CBA after March 30, 2011, and if so, whether the owners’ actions in that regard will be a ‘COBRA qualifying event’ which will enable the players to thereafter keep their coverage in place by paying the premiums themselves." This takes the issue to a completely new level because the federal government may indeed get involved in the CBA if the owners decide to discontinue benefits to former and current NFL players. That said, it cannot be great PR for the owners to decide on the ladder and eliminate the benefits players receive. Many fans are going to support the players regardless, because they are the face of the league. I am not sure that the owners can afford this type of bad press. Accordingly, i believe that improving the benefits of ex NFL players is the only reasonable and decent thing to do.
3. A rookie cap is another major issue facing both the league and the players. I think we can all agree that JaMarcus Russell getting millions upon millions of dollars without playing an NFL game is completely crazy. In reality, he was making more money than Tom Brady, who had won multiple Super Bowls. An attendent at a hospital, newly minted out of medical school isn't going to make more money than the chief at the hospital. There must be a rookie cap and rookie pay scale. If a player is picked #10 overall (Crabtree), he should get paid #10 money, it is that simple. Additionally, to suggest that a rookie teenager is worth more to a team and to a franchise than Tom Brady, is just stupid. I believe that both sides will come to a nice conclusion in regards to this.
These are the three primary issues facing the league and the players in regards to the CBA. Other things that are front and center are: the salary cap and whether or not it should be retained, the franchise tag situation, splits of revenues between the two sides, and the NFL playoff structure. In my belief, it is possible that both sides will come to a quagmire, but i think it is highly unlikely.
There is way too much for each side to lose if a work stoppage occur. Both sides would lose millions of dollars, and a black cloud would hover over one of the most growing organizations (sports or not), in the United States. The federal government may be inclined to step in on the negotiations, something that neither side would want because they want to remain independent to the politics in Washington. With President Obama as a major NFL football fan, i can easily see him stepping in and assigning an arbitrator. This would bring the NFL CBA issue to the forefront of American political conversation and place a microscope upon every facet involved. Additionally, there really isn't as toxic of environment that we saw during the labor dispute in the 80s, or the MLB and NHL issues of the 90s. Both sides have sat down, and understand that something needs to happen.
As 49er fans, we would be completely lost without football. It would be one of the worse things to happen to me, outside of family issues etc... I cannot imagine a September Sunday morning without football, and i am not sure that i would ever forgive each side if that were to happen. That said, it is a business and the future of the NFL really does involve getting the right CBA signed.
Here are some links for you to follow and keep up to date in regards to the CBA issue over the next couple of weeks and months.