Mediation gives hope; tales of the Tag

Mediation the latest hope

The move by the NFL and the NFLPA to agree to mediation -- and to negotiate daily over the next week -- is a hopeful sign in the midst of the gloom and doom that has been rampant about a lockout in two weeks. Throughout the pessimism, I have held out hope that March 4th was and is a "true" deadline, and this may be a sign. Of course, mediation is non-binding and there may be nothing that comes of it, but it makes sense for this negotiation at this moment.

Mediation is a logical step to soothe the emotions of each side and bridge the primary problem of this negotiation: the lack of trust between the two sides. George Cohen, a highly experienced mediator with a background in sports, will try to focus the issues and ask each side if there is room for flexibility and if not, try to suggest ways that they can be flexible. It is a move towards the two-year search for common ground.

To me, this CBA negotiation has gone according to script, with some intensity now brought to the game with under two weeks to go. Deadlines spur action, and the time has come.

And to many of you who asked if I was called to mediate, thanks for asking, but no. The negotiation is in good hands with George Cohen, an experienced labor negotiator who has assisted both management and labor. We'll see what this brings.

Tagging for dollars

The application of Franchise and Transition tags (Tag) on NFL teams’ top free agents over this past week is interesting, as we do not know if the application of these tags will have meaning in two weeks. For the moment, these top NFL players are bound to their existing teams. And any one of them could walk into their team's office right now and sign the tender, guaranteeing them that amount for the 2011 season, although payments wouldn't begin until the season starts.

To clarify, the existing (and expiring) CBA allows for the application of the Tag “in any year of the agreement.” The last “year of the agreement” expires on March 3, 2011. Thus, when the NFLPA challenges the application of the tag and the NFL defends it, both sides are technically correct. Tags are fine for now, but after March 3, all bets are off.

Interestingly, the NFLPA has not mounted much of a challenge here in the way that they have with the television contracts and collusion. What that tells me is that despite their symbolic resistance to the tags, this will not be a hot button issue in bargaining. The NFLPA will try to use acquiescing on the tags as a bit of leverage to make gains elsewhere in the negotiations.

As to some individual tags, Peyton Manning’s one-year number is 120% of his previous salary, an amount of more than $23 million. The Colts have allowed Manning’s contract to expire, a curious strategy that gives Manning and agent Tom Condon as much leverage as any NFL player has had since, well, Manning did the last time the Colts let his contract expire in 2004.

Also tagged are the two players perhaps most affected by this two-year labor dispute: Vincent Jackson of the Chargers and Logan Mankins of the Patriots. Both would have been unrestricted free agents in 2010 but were restricted due to the unique rules of the uncapped year. They then watched as receivers Miles Austin and Brandon Marshall (both also restricted) and guard Jahri Evans were abundantly rewarded while they sat. Now they are put on hold again, albeit with high tender amounts, until their first checks are due in September (or later).

Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, owes his high tender number, in part, to the Redskins and old friend Albert Haynesworth. The Redskins, knowing that Albert was not long for there, restructured Haynesworth’s deal last year to raise his Cap number for 2010– even though there was no Cap – to reduce future charges when they cut ties. This boosted Haynesworth’s cap number to $24.8 million and ramped up the Tag number for the average of the top five to approximately $12.5 million (it was $7 million last year). The Ravens can thank the neighboring Redskins for that.

Sey mour money

One player who received the Tag last season and now has been rewarded handsomely is Raiders’ defensive lineman Richard Seymour. Seymour is the latest player to receive the financial blessings of Al Davis and the Raiders, this to the tune of $30 million over two years with a stunning 75% of that number, $22.5 million, guaranteed! The contract, like that of Nnamdi Asomugha two years ago with the Raiders, is striking in that it not only breaks a barrier for the position in terms of pay, but it allows the player to be free again in two years! Seymour will likely have another shot at a big free agent payday in 2013 at the still-marketable age of 33.

Although Al Davis has been know to fight with ex-employees – especially head coaches -- over remaining financial obligation and is known for not compensating his front office to the level of other teams, he has never had a problem paying top dollar for players. There were rumblings that Davis was pulling back from his high-spending ways after being embarrassed by the reaction to his 2008 spending spree on Javon Walker, DeAngelo Hall and Tommy Kelly, but that rumored embarrassment did not stop the flow of player-friendly contracts.

In the past two years, Davis has made four players the highest-paid in the history fo the NFL at their position: Asomugha (cornerback), Shane Lechler (punter), Sebastian Janikowski (kicker) and now Seymour.

Agents and players love hearing from the Raiders.

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