Capping it all off (updated 9/20)

Just to have it all in one place, here’s a quick guide to the NFL’s labor situation as I understand it:

What happened: In 2008, the owners opted out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.

What was the effect: It triggered a countdown designed to force the owners and players to sit down and deal before the clock hits zero.

What are the key dates:

  • March, 2010- The two sides have to come to come to an agreement by March in order to forestall an uncapped season
  • March 2011-If no agreement is reached by the start of free agency, the owners will likely “lock out” the players.  A lock out is like a strike initiated by the owners.  The players, who like the current CBA, will show up to play.  The owners won’t let them, because they don’t want to pay them 60% of the revenues as they are obligated to now.  Of course, both sides could just shrug and play without a CBA, but that is unlikely to happen.  Like the Lions win the Super Bowl this year unlikely.

Why might the players not negotiate soon?

What might get them to the table?

  • No salary cap means no salary floor.  Currently, teams are forced to spend at least 87.6% of the cap.  Many teams hate this.  No cap, means no floor.  No floor means that some teams could conceivably slash their payrolls to ridiculous levels.
  • 2010 would hurt pending free agents. Players like Marlin Jackson and Antoine Bethea would have to wait two more years before becoming an unrestricted free agent.  The first FA contract is the gold mine for NFL players who weren’t highly drafted.  Forcing them to stay with a team for two more years would be a blow.
  • More tags.  Even the players who do qualify as unrestricted free agents could be subjected to an extra “tag” by their club.  Players don’t like to have their movement restricted.
  • Fewer teams can participate. Vetrans won’t be able to chase a ring because the best teams won’t be able to participate in free agency without losing a player first.
  • Desperation.  Most NFL players don’t make ‘that much’ money.  They can’t afford a work stoppage.  They need the green river to keep flowing.

Why might the owners not negotiate soon?

  • No salary cap means no salary floor.  Some owners like Wayne Weaver hate the spending floor.  They may just let the cap expire so they can turn their franchises into the NFL equivalent of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
  • They feel they can break the players.  The NFL has never had the strongest union, and many players live pay check to pay check.  If the owners feel they can crush the union as they did in 1987, they’ll go for the throat and force the lockout until the players are ready to agree on their terms.
  • Guaranteed money.  The owners have been securing rights deals that pay out whether or not there are games.  In other words, they’ll still make money even if the league doesn’t play.

What might get them to the table?

  • The salary cap has made for a level playing field.  They know that the players have threatened to never let it come back once it goes away.  To save the cap, they might try to get a deal done by March.
  • Instability is bad for the game.  The league is a powerhouse right now.  The only thing that could derail it would be a work stoppage.  It’s in the owners best interests to get a deal done quickly.

What are the key issues?

  • The biggest issue is what percentage of total revenue should go to the players.  It’s always about money
  • There are debates about what revenue streams should be included in that formula
  • The draft system overpays at the top.  Owners hate it.  Some veterans hate it.  The union loves it because it drives wages up.

What does this mean for the Colts?

1.  An uncapped 2010 would probably be a short term boost.  The Colts have two key players that would no longer be eligible for free agency.  The top 4 teams are prohibited from signing free agents (unless they lose one of their own) with other restrictions on teams 5-8, so other top AFC teams that usually rely more on F/A than the Colts would suffer, while Indy could keep right on ignoring the market like always with no repercussions.

2.  An uncapped NFL would push the Colts to the middle class.  Irsay is never going to be cheap.  The Colts perennially sit in the top 5 of most money spent under the cap system.  Still, teams like the Cowboys, Redskins, Giants, and Patriots have virtually unlimited resources and would perpetually outspend Indy.  As long as the Colts kept the system draft and develop talent, however, they would likely stay competitive.

3.  A work stoppage would be devastating to the franchise.  They play in a new stadium that is publicly funded and the 2012 Super Bowl is slated to be played in Indianapolis.  A lost season would take away a year of Peyton Manning’s career, a Super Bowl, and create ill will in the community.

What is happening now?

The two sides have talked a couple of times recently, but the players are bracing for a lockout.  Little progress has been made, and the two sides are still arguing over what records to disclose.

Update: 9/4  Goodell says the league is prepared for an uncapped 2010. No significant negotiations have taken place.

Update: 9/20 FO has a great article explaining the restrictions on signing unrestricted free agents (UFA’s) by the top teams.

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