The NFL may not play in 2010!
Troy Vincent Trace Armstrong
By Bill Smith
There is another election going on in March and it will not select a president. It will select the man that will replace Gene Upshaw as Executive Director of the NFL Players Association. This election is critical to every NFL fan because the winner will be the key to the future of the league.
Right now there are 5 candidates. Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong both former Presidents of the NFLPA are the favorites. While both are popular among the players, according to John Clayton’s conversation with him about his possible retirement, Upshaw preferred Armstrong to replace him. Other candidates include former Bears tackle Jim Covert, Ben Utt, who played for Baltimore and Indianapolis, and Washington-based attorney DeMaurice Smith.
The league needs to negotiate a new deal with the players. When Upshaw was the rep for the players, he was able to get them major concessions in the percentage of the total NFL revenue payable to the players and significantly increased the minimum that each team must spend on player contracts. The owners approved the deal but then realized that 60 percent of the money going to the players was too much. Last year they voted to opt out of the current contract.
Under the current agreement, there will be a draft in 2010 but it will be an uncapped year. As things stand now, either the players can vote to strike or more likely, the league can lock them out probably after the 2010 season. There are some that say the league could lock the player out after this season if they voted to do so. While most might not have a problem playing with an uncapped year, some may not want to see the competitive balance go the way of that in Major League Baseball where the baseball version of the golden rule applies. That says “Those that have the Gold (Yankees and Red Sox) rule.” One uncapped year could alter the balance of power in the league for 6 to 10 years.
On the up side for players and free agents in that year, a team could spend any amount of money it wanted to put a championship team together. That means more for some players. There would be no rookie cap so that each rookie drafted could negotiate whatever deal a team would agree to. More money for players—maybe.
On the down side, there would be no minimum amount that an NFL team would have to spend. Because contracts are not guaranteed, a team like the Bengals or the Bills could cut all their players and hire 53 semi-pro players that might work for 100K each. That would reduce their labor expense from around 115 million which is about what they will spend in 09 to 5.3 million and thus they would put a nice chunk of cash in their pocket. Obviously, they would lose games, but they are losing games now at the 115 million level.
Another hit the players would take is in free agency. Now, a player gets to be a free agent after 4 years. If the contract expires without an extension, they would have to play 6 years. There would be a large percentage of the league caught in the change of years of service necessary to become a free agent. In addition, there would be some additional restrictions on free agency due to transition and franchise tag definitions changing. The total amount of money paid for player benefits would also be reduced slightly.
There would be no draft after the 2010 season. Every rookie would be a free agent able to negotiate with any team or all of them at the same time. Kiss competitive balance goodbye along with Mel Kiper. Rather than that happening, the NFL would likely lock the players out thus beginning the first labor stoppage since 1987. We all remember the fun of replacement games, don’t we?
What the owners will do:
Most of the NFL owners won’t want to have an uncapped year because the shift in power that the 2010 free agents would involve would affect league balance for years to come even if there was an agreement later on. They will take a vote to lock out the players before the 2010 season and it is impossible to tell how that vote will come out. My guess is that enough teams will want to play and continue to negotiate that the 2010 season will be played but that is my opinion.
What the union would do:
Gene Upshaw, the Director of the NFLPA who died last year, was under pressure from a handful of members to resign because he had not negotiated the guaranteed contracts that exist in the MLB and NBA. That part is true, but neither of those leagues are giving their players 60 percent of all revenue. The NFL agreement is the most lucrative deal ever negotiated by a union in the highest revenue game in history.
The membership could do what they did in 87 and decertify the union. That would allow them to go back to the courts and sue the NFL for relief. The players won the last suit leading to free agency but what will happen this time is anyone’s guess.
The key issues:
There are really only 2 serious issues. The players want guaranteed contracts and the owners want a reduced percentage of total revenues going to the players. There are a few issues that are red herrings like the rookie salary cap that the owners have been talking about. That is a bargaining chip that will be thrown out to get something else that the owners want.
The owners want to give less than 60% to the players. The only way that can get approved by the players is if the league goes to 18 regular season games. The percentage the players get would be slightly less of an increased total dollar amount.
The players want what the NBA and MLB player have—guaranteed contracts. That should be a deal breaker for the league. Guaranteed contracts have hurt both leagues and would kill the NFL. Coaches in the NBA have no power. The players work extra hard in a contract year then in most cases the performance tails off significantly when they get a big dollar contract. In baseball, it is possible to statistically track the fall in production. One study several years ago showed a 12.5 percent drop in production in baseball from a contract year to the 2 years following a new contact.
What will most likely happen:
I believe that the players will elect Troy Vincent who has been President of the NFLPA for several years to replace Gene Upshaw. He has not indicated exactly where he stands on the issue of guaranteed contracts. IF either the players or the owners have a half a brain in their heads, they will find a way to split up a 6 billion dollar a year pie. That is right sports fans, the expected final revenue figure in 2008 is over 6 billion dollars and is increasing by 10-12% every year!
If a case of “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable” strikes either party, you can expect to see the NFLPA decertify and the NFL owners lock the players out probably before the 2010 season. The union will decertify and the courts will decide who did what to whom.
We may be seeing a rerun of the movie “The Replacements” in a stadium near you.
That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.
Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for NFLDraftDog.com and edits fryingpansports.com. He has also published several novels on and edits .The NFL may not play in 2010! by Bill Smith