Posted: 10:48 am Monday, February 7th, 2011
By Post Staff
The 2010 NFL season is officially in the books after Green Bay finished off a thrilling 31-25 victory over Pittsburgh last night in Super Bowl XLV.
And as always, the Super Bowl is a little bittersweet, marking the last time we will see real football until the fall. But we might have to wait even longer than usual to see the athletes strap on the pads, with an NFL lockout officially 24 days away. It will be the league’s first labor strife since 1987, and we won’t have football again until the owners and NFL Players Association agree to a new collective bargaining agreement. That could happen today, in the middle of April, or could entirely wipe out the 2011 season.
The squabble between the owners and players is complicated and confusing, but it’s important for the fans to understand what is going on behind the scenes. We have already written a couple articles for the newspaper detailing the uncertain road ahead for the NFL players, and how the NFL could look drastically different when it does eventually return.
Now, we’ll provide an all-in-one primer on everything you need to know about this impending lockout. And we’ll do it in plain English (or try to at least).
When does the lockout begin?
The current CBA expires when the clock strikes midnight on March 3. At this point, almost all league activity will stop — players will not be allowed to enter their team facilities to workout or rehab, coaches will not be allowed to hold any offseason practices, and teams will not be allowed to sign free agents, trade players or extend any contracts. And players currently under contract will not see another dime until a new CBA is signed.
What are the two sides fighting about?
Simply put, the owners want more money. The players are generally happy with the league the way it is currently constructed. But the owners want to scale back the percentage of gross revenue the players receive (currently 59 percent of approximately $8 billion, compared to 57 percent for NHL players, 55 percent for NBA and 43 percent for MLB). And the owners want to add two more regular season games, which would add two more games of TV money, ticket revenues, food sales, etc. But the owners don’t want to compensate the players for the extra games. Their argument is that 18 regular season and 2 preseason games is the same as 16 regular season and 4 preseason games.
The owners felt like they gave away too much in the last CBA negotiations in 2006. So now they’re trying to take some back. The players haven’t relented yet.
What do the players want?
The players definitely don’t want an 18-game schedule. It adds two extra games of wear-and-tear on the body and will increase injuries and shorten careers. And if they are forced to play two more games, they DEFINITELY want to get compensated for the two extra games by having their contracts pro-rated upwards by two more games.
If the players are forced to concede to the owners — and it looks like the 18-game schedule is an inevitability, either in 2011 or 2012, based on when the CBA will be signed — then they want some concessions from the owners, too. Among them: A second bye week, to help them maintain their bodies throughout the grueling season; a shorter offseason program and less demanding training camp; increased roster sizes; a shorter route to unrestricted free agency (it currently takes four years to be a restricted free agent, five years for unrestricted); and more flexible injury rules (currently, an injured player only has two options — remain on the active 53-man roster as he heals his injury, or be placed on Injured Reserve and have his season ended).
The players also likely want a rookie salary cap — determining a rookie’s salary based on his draft position — but NFLPA leadership isn’t thrilled about the idea. For them to agree to a rookie salary cap, they want assurances that the money will flow back to the veteran players, instead of back into the owners’ pockets. The players also disagree with the owners’ contention that they make 59 percent of gross revenues. The owners take about $1 billion of revenues off the top for league expenses, so the players argue that they really only make about 50 percent of gross revenues.
How close are the two sides?
Not close. Commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday at the Super Bowl that “the commitment on behalf of the ownership is to get an agreement, and we will get an agreement,” but purposely avoided any specifics about when that will happen. The two sides haven’t yet held any meaningful negotiations.
What about the NFL Draft?
The draft is the only league activity that will be held as planned. It will be April 28-30 in New York City, and will have the same format as last year — First round on Thursday night, Rounds 2-3 on Friday and Rounds 4-7 on Saturday. But if a new CBA is not agreed to by then, teams will not be allowed to trade players on draft day, only picks. The Dolphins’ draft-day trade last year — giving the 12th pick to San Diego for the 28th and 40th picks and linebacker Tim Dobbins — will not be allowed this time, making it more difficult for teams to move up and down the draft board.
Also, teams will not be allowed to sign undrafted players after the draft until a new CBA is signed. If you think that’s insignificant, think again — current undrafted free agents on the Dolphins include Davone Bess, Marlon Moore and Patrick Cobbs. And the draft picks will also not be allowed to sign until a new CBA is put in place.
Will the owners make money during the lockout?
Yes. They will still receive about $4 billion from their TV contracts. This is the owners’ trump card. With money still pouring in, they can try to out-last the players, who can do nothing but try to save their money.
What about the coaches?
Yes, they will still get paid, though the assistant coaches may have clauses in their contracts that pay them less than 100 percent of their salary in case of a lockout.
What will the players do in the meantime?
Starting March 4, players will have to workout on their own, find new places to rehab their injuries and buy their own health insurance. The NFLPA made several visits to each team during the season to educate the players about different insurance plans and stress the importance of saving money. The NFLPA also is setting up deals gyms in various cities around the country for the players to workout with each other (if you live in Atlanta go here, if you live in Phoenix go here, etc.).
Will they really cancel games in 2011?
Don’t bet on it. The players and owners are too smart to miss any games. It would be a complete PR disaster for both sides and could squander a lot of the positive momentum the NFL has built in becoming the country’s dominant sport over the past 10 years. But an agreement might not happen until August, which means no mini-camps and OTAs and possibly an abbreviated training camp.