18-game season continues to be “the issue”

The NFLPA held a conference call this week with two of their important leaders, Domonique Foxworth of the Ravens and Scott Fujita of the Browns. Both players were placed on injured reserve this season, and it was no surprise that the focus of the call was on the health and safety of players and the NFL’s proposed 18-game season.

According to the union, the 2010 regular season saw 352 players placed on injured reserve for a total of 3,278 games missed, an average of 9.5 games missed per player. Adding two games to the season, they maintained, would naturally increase those numbers showing approximately one in five players in the NFL ending the season on the injured list.

The call reinforced my feeling that this has been and is the game-changing issue in these CBA negotiations. Fujita was insistent that the present proposals to compensate for the addition of two games were “unacceptable” and further concessions need to be made in the areas of vesting and post-career insurance benefits.

The players also mentioned the concern of health benefits going away upon the expiration of the CBA in March. As player reps, teammates with pregnant wives have asked them if they should induce labor prior to March in order to insure benefits.

Interestingly, I came away from the call more optimistic than before it that a deal can and will be worked out. The union never said that the 18-game issue was non-negotiable. There was nothing about that call that suggested to me that the divisions between the two sides were insurmountable. 

The NFL can -- and, in my opinion, will -- answer many of those concerns about the enhanced season, including: health and pension benefit revisions, longer post-career health coverage, in-season injured reserve lists, extra roster and practice squad players, reduced offseason contact, etc.

This is a negotiation, pure and simple. And it is a negotiation that is far from a crucial stage; no matter how much impending doom and gloom you hear about.  The players aren’t going to see the owners’ best offer now, and the owners aren’t going to see the players’ best offer for a while. 

Let’s hold the phone on the prospect of an extended lockout; the process has not even reached a true negotiation phase yet. Speaking of which…

Trust is vital, and lacking

As for the back and forth between the league and the union, whether through Twitter, public comments, dueling articles on ESPN.com, or the in-house web sites nfllabor.com (NFL) and nfllockout.com (NFLPA), it is not necessarily a bad thing. Rhetoric is part of the game and has been part of most negotiations.

The deeper concern, however, is trust. Nothing will happen towards a new CBA unless there is trust between the parties.

The NFLPA does not see trust when the NFL refuses to show transparency of their economic concerns. The NFL does not see trust when they read comments in the media about the negotiations and see the union going to Congress to try to leverage their celebrity for potential use in the event of a lockout.

The NFLPA does not see trust when they see a letter to fans from Commissioner Goodell that spins the negotiation as something the league is trying to make happen with an inflexible union. The NFL does not see trust with the NFLPA going on its "Decertification Tour" rather than engaging in substantive negotiations.

The NFLPA does not see trust when they see television contracts that pay through a lockout.  The NFL does not see trust when it sets aside days to meet in December that are not taken advantage of.

The NFLPA does not see trust when it sees letters in forums like the Washington Post by team leaders such as Mark Murphy of the Packers.  The NFL does not see trust whe it sees letters in forums like the Washington Post by team leaders such as Drew Brees of the Saints.

And the NFLPA does not see trust when it sees the NFL engage Bob Batterman, the attorney who guided the NHL through a lockout, as far back as 2007.  The NFL does not see trust when it sees the union have media conference calls spinning a message that is one-sided.

There is a deal to be made here. It will not be made, however, without some vulnerability shown by each side.

Playoff pay

I have received many questions about player payroll in the postseason.

A player’s salary is irrelevant to what he makes in the playoffs. For instance, the Saints’ Reggie Bush, playing on a $8 million salary this season, made $470,000 a game for the season. For last weekend’s playoff game, he made $19,000, the same as every other player on the Saints.

Let’s look at the cumulative postseason pay for the 2010 season playoffs:

Wild Card Round
Division Winner (Sea, Phi, KC, Ind):         $21,000
Other (NO, GB, Bal, NYJ):                      $19,000

Divisional Playoff Game                          $21,000

Conference Championship Game:            $38,000

Super Bowl Game
(Winning Team)                                      $83,000
(Losing Team)                                        $42,000

Thus, the maximum a player could receive for winning the Super Bowl this year would be $163,000 (that would only apply to the Seahawks now, as the maximum for the other winning teams last weekend would be $161,000).

The maximum the bye teams’ players (Chi, Atl, NE, Pitt) could receive for winning the Super Bowl would be $142,000. Their bye week gave them rest and home field, although cost them an additional $21,000.

Logistically, the NFL deposits money in the team’s account for how far its team advanced in the playoffs and the team then writes the checks. And for the majority of players, the postseason games represent a dramatic pay cut. Whenever a player says "It's not about the money", it usually meants: "It's all about the money!".  For these few weeks, though, it may be true.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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