The Lowdown on the Lockout

There may be fewer than 16 regular season NFL games for each team this fall. There may even be none at all. Yes, those Cheeseheads may be looking for a repeat title, and yes, Mr. Brady, with that lavish lifestyle, hot wife, and ridiculously good-looking hair may be trying to, again, solidify his place in pro football history.

But things aren’t looking so hot for the NFL. To give you an idea of how desperate NFL analysts are for news stories, an ESPN regional blog recently released a power-ranking of, believe it or not, assistant coaches… that’s right,assistant coaches. An idea that was created, in my opinion, in “there’s-nothing-to-write-about-ville, USA.”

So why might a man or woman be deprived of the ability to wake up on Sunday and nurse a hangover while watching football?

Money. And lot’s of it. About 9.3 billion dollars.

The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), the labor union for NFL players, has functioned as the collective bargaining unit for players with NFL owners since 1968. Since its formation, the NFLPA has undertaken multiple unsuccessful disputes: In 1982, a strike lasted 57 days into the NFL regular season. In 1987, replacement players were hired to play temporarily during a strike, inspiring the rowdy, but classic movie The Replacements.  In 1993, the NFLPA was finally able to succeed in a collective bargaining agreement which created unrestricted free-agents and a salary cap ceiling.

Since then, the 1993 agreement has been extended 5 other times.

Fast forward to 2008: NFL owners decide to opt-out of the 2006 extended agreement they signed, creating no salary cap limit for the 2010 season, and providing teams with unlimited spending.

After an extension of the expiration date of the 2006 collective bargaining agreement from March 4th to March 11th -- an unsuccessful attempt to conclude negotiations -- the NFL officially became "locked out" on March 12th, a forceful move by owners to sway negotiations in their favor.  In other words, players are unable to be on team facilities, and are essentially inactive in routine off-season schedules which include team building activities. In response, players decided to decertify the NFLPA, claiming that they weren’t an official union, and thus, aren’t subject to a lockout. The issue moved to court under the case “Brady vs. NFL,” which has ultimately led to court-ordered mediation after various judges ruled in both the NFL and Players’ sides.

So what started the lockout in the first place?

According to ESPN’s insiders, a significant point of negotiations has been the owners' proposed extension of the NFL season from 16 to 18 weeks. Players argue two points against the extension of a regular season. First, an increase in regular season games exposes players to greater risks for injury, and second, the owners’ proposal does not provide sufficient compensation in salary and health for prolonged work. Owners, fixed on their business' bottom line, see the extension as a way to increase revenues and to prolong the excitement of the regular season.  At this point in negotiations, the issue has been dropped.

Both sides’ biggest disagreement—now resolved—was over revenue shares for players and owners. The owners proposed a compromise of cutting the players' share of the NFL’s revenue from 60% to 48%-- a 12% decrease, while eliminating a 1 billion dollar expense credit, a bonus the owners have previously taken from the NFL’s revenue for franchise improvements.  Players, unhappy with the reduction in revenue percentage, initially refused the offer.

Recent updates, however, indicate that an agreement has been reached between the two parties because of a new clause. Players are satisfied with a clause that would force teams to spend close to their entire salary cap; translating to higher salaries for players. NFL teams would now have to spend nearly all of their salary cap money each year on players instead of saving cap room to spend on future players, which at times, created major contract discrepancies. Players, satisfied with such a concession, have moved on to other points within negotiations.

The only major issue left unresolved according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter is a proposed rookie wage scale by owners.

The basic idea behind a rookie wage scale is for teams to pay for players who are proven, rather than risk money on unproven, hyped-up draft picks. Players have received lucrative contracts in the past before even playing a real game of football in the NFL, and at the peril of some teams, become complete busts in the league. Owners who proposed a rookie wage scale complain that rookie contracts have become too risky and expensive. The wage scale would put limits on the amount of earnings a lottery player pick could have and would cap the amount of years in a player’s contract to induce free agency. Long-term veterans who are proven commodities would receive fair payment because teams wouldn't spend as much on draft picks. That’s not to count out the new clause that forces teams to spend their entire salary cap, which would funnel money to proven players.  Players agree with the idea of the wage scale, but currently disapprove of its “option clause” within the proposal. As of now, the deal on the table proposes 4 year contracts for first round draft picks with a fifth year “option” for a player to either stay with a team or go to free agency. Players want that “option” year to be held to pay standards of a top 10 pick, meanwhile owners want the option year to have a fixed amount of pay, contingent with the first four years.

The NFL is not the only professional sports league with lockout issues. The NBA, currently in a lockout, is in negotiations over a revenue sharing deal of the league’s annual 4 billion dollars of intake.  The league states that it currently has 22 out of 30 teams losing money, and that the previously agreed on 57%of revenue that players receive is simply too much. That’s not to forget the NHL’s 2004-2o05 lockout season where the hockey league was shutdown the whole year while owners and players fought over, again, revenue sharing—a common theme in these labor disputes.

As the NFL preseason approaches, all signs point to July 21 where a league meeting is being held as the date for a deal to be done. Timetables put that day as the last chance before NFL Preseason games will be affected by the lockout.

Hopefully, both sides can come together and, with a fair deal, provide fans with the football season they deserve.

Today, July 14, marks the 121st day of the lockout.

Want more sports articles from Han and others? Check out Han's analysis of the Pacquiao-Mosley fight, Kevin Seefried's article on CMC Alum Dean Taylor, Kevin Seefried's article on Derek Jeter or Ariel Katz's article on Intramural Sports.