Both sides in NFL win some, lose some

DeMaurice Smith with commissioner Roger Goodell.ASSOCIATED PRESS
DeMaurice Smith with commissioner Roger Goodell.ASSOCIATED PRESS (NFLPA chief)
Posted: July 26, 2011

SO, NOW THAT THE 136-Day War is over and Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith have given each other a man hug, who won this 4 1/2-month battle besides the army of $800-an-hour lawyers who now can go off and buy yet another beach house?

Let's call it a draw.

"Our issue from the beginning of this was to craft a deal that was good for the players and good for the owners and for the game of football," Smith, the NFL Players Association executive director, said yesterday after his soon-to-be-a-union-again's executive board and player representatives unanimously ratified a new, 10-year labor deal, 4 days after the owners had done the same.

"We worked hard to get a fair deal done. We didn't get everything that either side wanted. There's a lot of things I'm sure that the players wanted and owners wanted that we didn't get. But we did arrive at a deal that we think is fair and balanced.''

After getting fleeced by the union in the last labor negotiation in 2006, the owners came into this one looking for payback. Unbalanced and one-sided were the two words they most often used to describe the '06 deal that 30 of the league's 32 owners saw fit to put their John Hancock on.

They did get some concessions in the new deal, most notably a reduction in the players' share of league revenue from 50 percent to around 48 percent, and a restructured rookie compensation system that makes a little more sense than the old one.

But neither the revenue concession nor the rookie salary concession was nearly as significant as the owners had wanted. And Smith and the players scored significant victories in health and safety issues, including a reduction in offseason workouts and less hitting in training camp and regular-season practices. The owners also didn't get the 18-game regular season they were pushing for, though that subject still will be open for discussion down the road.

"I think there were victories on both sides in this deal," agent Jerrold Colton said. "Certainly, lowering the players' [revenue] percentage is a victory for the owners. But the reduction isn't a huge reduction.

"The reductions of offseason workouts and in-season workouts is a victory for the players. So is preserving free agency at 4 years. And I don't think the owners got the rookie wage scale placed at the level they had hoped for.

"Compared to what the owners were looking for at the start, the players came out of this pretty well.''

A quick look at some of the key aspects of the new deal:

The revenue split and the cap: In the old deal, the owners and players essentially split the revenue 50-50. The owners initially were looking to up their cut to around 58 percent, but ended up settling for 52, which is about a $200 million a year gain for them.

The 2011 salary cap will be $120.4 million, which is nearly $7 million less than the '09 cap (2010 was an uncapped year). But - and this is a fairly big but - there will be cash-spending minimums in the new deal as opposed to the cap minimums that were in the old one. This will require teams to spend more actual money on players.

This change will particularly impact clever teams like the Eagles, who used to play games with the cap by doing deals at the end of the year. They would renegotiate player contracts and insert likely-to-be-earned incentives into the new deals that would never actually be earned but would raise their cap number for that year and give them cap credit for the following year without spending a dime.

"I just got off a conference call with the NFLPA legal counsel, and of all the things they spoke of, they may have been most proud of that [change] because of the fact that the majority of the money goes directly to the players now,'' Colton said. "They said the average [cash-spending] minimum for 2009 was 90 percent. To have it now where it will be close to 100 percent [99 percent in 2011 and 2012] is a clear victory.''

Rookie salaries: The owners wanted a major renovation to the rookie salary setup that had teams forking over insane amounts of money to the top picks in the draft before they ever played a down. They ended up settling for a new roof and some storm windows.

They initially were seeking an NBA-type rookie system where a draft pick would get a slotted amount depending on where he was taken. They settled for a new setup that will substantially bring down the money given to the top picks.

The owners figure to save about $270 million a year on rookie contracts in the new deal. But they'll only get to keep $100 million of that. Another $100 million will go to the Legacy Fund for retired players, and $70 million will go to a veteran performance pool or any other purpose the NFLPA deems appropriate.

All drafted rookies will sign 4-year deals, with the top 10 picks agreeing to a fifth option year at an average of the top 10 veteran salaries at the player's position.

What does all that mean in dollars and cents? Well, last year's first overall pick, Sam Bradford, received a 6-year, $78 million deal with $50 million in guaranteed money. With the new restrictions, which also include the closing of loopholes that allowed players to get around the rookie wage pool, the best this year's top pick, Cam Newton, can do is a 4-year, $22 million deal, with another $14 million or so coming in that fifth option year.

Health and safety: The players made huge gains here that aren't going to make coaches happy. They wanted less hitting and less offseason work, and they got it. The length of offseason workout programs was slashed. So was the number of OTAs. Teams will be allowed to have just one padded practice per day during training camp. They will be limited to 14 padded practices during the course of the regular season.

"We addressed each issue the owners had,'' NFLPA president Kevin Mawae told reporters. "We never asked for another dime in this deal. At the end of the day, I think the players feel they have more control, whether it's offseason conditioning or in-season work rules or the ability to hit the free-agent market and be paid for it.

"At the same time, I think the owners feel they got what they needed in terms of growing revenues and building new stadiums and things like that. It's a win-win for both sides. Not everybody can be happy all the time. But today, I think there's a lot of happy people."

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