Frustration continues on NFL labor front

Before getting back to your regularly scheduled programming of Super Bowl talk for the next 120 hours, here’s an opening primer on the NFL-NFLPA negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which you’ll be hearing a lot about – some accurate, much inaccurate -- over the coming weeks/months/year(s).

Why is the NFL frustrated with the negotiations?

Owners want the players to share the risk. They point to their numbers showing that NFL players have received a $500 million increase in compensation since the terms of the player-bloated 2006 CBA was ratified, while their side has been cutting costs. In their view, the downturn in the economy, the ebbing of sponsorship and suite sales and the massive debt undertaken to finance new stadiums are all being felt by ownership without being similarly felt by players.

In bargaining meetings, the theme from the NFL is “collective sacrifice.” The NFL wants players to roll back some of their gains made through the 2006 CBA to more accurately reflect the cost of doing business and financing these massive facilities.

Why is the NFL Players Association frustrated with the negotiations?

The NFLPA wants full disclosure in this age of transparency in corporate America. It listens to the problems ownership presents and says repeatedly, “Show us your books.” With the publicly owned Green Bay Packers the only team mandated to report their financial statement, the union looks at the smallest market in the league making money and says there must not be any issues.

As I know so well, the Packers not only have a unique fan base in the vast Packer Nation, they also have strong revenues and no debt. So they paint a nice picture for the union as the only public showing out there.

The league’s response to these repeated requests is to point out the audit rights the union already has through the CBA. The NFL also argues that “opening the books” in the NBA and NHL did little to avert work stoppages. The league simply feels the union has enough information without opening the inner workings of teams’ finances, which frustrates the union to no end.

Why is there a report that the NFL wants an 18-percent reduction?

There’s internal data showing the need for that type of rollback to offset the gains the players have made compared to the league’s incremental revenue since 2006.

At the end of the day, this is a negotiation. That’s the opening offer.

Why is the rookie salary issue a non-starter?

Pay no attention to this; nothing to see here. Both the league and the union understand that something has to be done, especially at the top of the draft. Both sides have agreed that incoming rookies in future years have no voice in this negotiation and will be the sacrificial lambs.

Why does the Supplemental Revenue Sharing (SRS) decision cut both ways?

The union declared victory this week in a decision by the Special Master to continue the SRS program into 2011. However, it may be a pyrrhic victory for the players since the SRS is based on revenue rankings only, and some of the top revenue producers also have enormous debt, largely due to private stadium construction. The fact they are paying down debt with some of their revenue and now sharing it more with other teams, who may have low revenue but no debt, may have a chilling effect on player spending in the long run.

The union’s focus should be on ensuring that owners do not pocket any revenue-sharing money, no matter how much or how little, but spend it on players. That’s the real issue.

Why is the Final Eight plan being misreported?

I’ve heard many reports that top unrestricted free agent (UFA) players such as Julius Peppers are closed off from signing with a quarter of NFL teams as a result of the Final Eight rule. Well, uh, no. Peppers and others are fair game for teams that lost in the divisional round – Cardinals, Cowboys, Ravens and Chargers -- and are allowed to sign one player with a first-year salary of $5.7 million (projected).

True, the Final Four teams are prevented from signing top UFAs unless they lose their own in similar value, but a quarter of the league is a lot different than an eighth of the league.

Why are coaches’ contracts now being affected by the labor dispute?

Teams are at least preparing as if there will be no football in 2011, with adjustments to assistant coaches’ contracts in 2011 that call for pay reductions of anywhere from 25 to 50 percent and even rights to terminate in the event of a lockout with 30-60 days notice.

What’s ahead?

More meetings – starting Saturday -- and probably more frustration from each side; the NFL frustrated that the union will not share the risk and the union aggravated that the NFL will not share its financial information to prove its point. Meanwhile, teams and players are – or should be – preparing for an uncapped year and a different way of operating in the NFL, coming soon to a team near you. As for 2011, a potential lockout year, all bets are off.

To get you ready for the uncapped year ahead and the new way of doing business in the NFL, we’ll be offering our first NFP Webinar on Feb. 17, “The End of the NFL as we know it.” I’ll go through all you need to know (and some you don’t) about the new NFL landscape in 2010. It will be “must-have” information for every football fan.

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