Phil Sheridan: What? NFL, players can't agree on $9 billion

Posted: February 23, 2011

No doubt, as you pay ever larger monthly bills with a stagnant or shrinking income, you have felt the pain of the National Football League and its owners.

Certainly, as you attempt to be an informed citizen while earning a living and raising a family and trying to squeeze some leisure into your life, you fight back tears over the plight of NFL players.

It may even be that you find yourself distracted at work and distant with the spouse and kids, so consumed are you by the lockout deadline looming just eight days away.

OK, it's more likely you're sick of the whole thing and wish a pox on both owners and players. If the two sides can't figure out a satisfactory way to divide $9 billion in annual revenues - for presenting and playing a glorified children's game - maybe the NFL should just shut down operations.

This is an understandable reaction whenever those things you seek to escape by following sports become the very things that dominate the sports pages. If you want disputes over money, arguments over health care, greedy management and out-of-touch unions, you'll stick to the front page for news from Washington and Wall Street.

With all that granted, there are reasons for even a casual Eagles fan to know what's happening in the ongoing negotiations between the NFL and its players. The closer you follow the game, the closer you should follow the issues that will be addressed in a new collective-bargaining agreement.

Start with that. There will be a new CBA. There will be a Super Bowl next Feb. 5 in Indianapolis, which means there will be some kind of NFL season and postseason. At worst, the owners who created the current showdown by opting out of the previous CBA two years early might be willing to sacrifice a few regular-season games in order to prove their resolve.

Recent developments, however, suggest that a deal is possible much earlier. Since Friday, negotiators have met for seven to eight hours per day in the presence of George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services. According to Sports Business Journal, the FMCS gets involved in about 5,000 disputes per year. It has an 86 percent success rate in helping to find solutions.

Back on Feb. 4, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said a deal could be worked out "in a week" if negotiators actually sat down and negotiated.

A league that keeps shattering its own records for success as measured in attendance, revenues and TV ratings seems like a pretty good candidate for finding compromise with its players' union. That is especially true when both sides seem to comprehend the absurdity of a long labor war.

"[I]f we do not reach an agreement and there is interruption in NFL football, we have failed to honor the commitment that our fans have made to this league and to this game," NFL negotiator Jeff Pash said earlier this month.

"Look," NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said, "our job is to get a CBA done as quickly as possible."

And what would a deal look like? How will it change the NFL as you experience it? There could be significant changes.

The owners want an 18-game regular-season schedule, with just two preseason games per team. Players say they are against that - more games represent more risk of injuries - but an estimated $500 million of annual revenue sounds very persuasive. A 20-week regular season, with two bye weeks built in, would affect how rosters are constructed, how division races play out and pretty much everything from training camp practices to the date of the Super Bowl.

A rookie wage scale would remove the enormous bonuses teams now pay for unproven high draft picks. That would shift more pay to later picks and undrafted players who excel on the field. In theory, it would prevent players like Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson from growing dissatisfied because they've outperformed their rookie contracts.

Finally, there is much-needed focus on long-term benefits for retired players, an issue that fell between the two sides' interests in previous agreements. If nothing else, it is easier to enjoy an NFL game if you don't feel like you're watching men destroy themselves for your entertainment.

Can a lockout be avoided? We'll know more after this first week with a grownup (Cohen, the federal mediator) in the room. If progress has been made, the two sides could push that March 4 deadline back.

If these sessions produce nothing but spin and posturing, it could be a long battle. You will be excused if work, family and the constant pressure to pay those bills prevent you from caring very much.


Follow columnist Phil Sheridan on Twitter at twitter.com/Sheridanscribe. Read his blog at http://go.philly.com/ philabuster or his recent columns at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

 

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