Sharing the dough
Players receive 60 percent of revenues after owners take $1 billion for operating expenses. Owners want to take another $1 billion off the top, which the players claim will equal an 18 percent reduction in pay.
Extending the season
Owners seek an 18-game regular season with two preseason games. Players are almost unanimously against the plan.
Rookie wage scale
Both sides agree changes must be made, but differences arise over what to do with money saved.
Improved health care for former players
Both sides can expect to take a public-relations hit during any labor dispute, which is why they likely will agree to improve benefits for ex-players, if for no other reason than to avoid the negative publicity that has surrounded this issue of late.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION . . .
◆ The biggest difference between NFL salaries and those in the NBA and Major League Baseball is NFL contracts are not guaranteed. Players rarely fulfill their contracts before being released for salary-cap or performance reasons or renegotiating a longer deal with guaranteed money in the form of an upfront bonus.
◆ The average salary of an NFL player in 2009 was $1.9 million.
◆ The NFL was expected to generate $9 billion in revenues this year.
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Super Bowl XLV showcased what makes the NFL the most popular and profitable sports league on the planet.
The Packers’ 31-25 win over the Steelers drew a record crowd at Dallas Cowboys Stadium and record television ratings, which serves as the latest example of how the league is thriving in a weak economy. The NFL is expected to rake in a record $9 billion in revenues this year. That number should climb even higher in 2011.
Former coach and broadcaster John Madden said last week that the NFL is “too good to screw up.” As true as that statement might be, owners and players seem determined to do just that, which could result in the league’s first work stoppage since 1987.
The ticking heard when coaches and scouts descend on Indianapolis later this month for the NFL combine won’t be the sound from the dozens of stopwatches timing players in the 40-yard dash. It will mark time running out for owners and union representatives to work on a new collective-bargaining agreement before the current one expires March 4.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association President DeMaurice Smith continue to make the media rounds, leveraging their causes and stating their cases. They will receive no soapbox here. What follows is a spin-free analysis of a dispute that could create significant changes in a game that is insanely popular as is.
What do both sides want?
Owners claim the NFL’s financial model is failing even as revenues climb. They receive $1 billion in revenues before the money is divided with players, who receive 60 percent under the expiring agreement. Owners seek another $1 billion off the top that they say will be used to grow the game.
The union is skeptical of owners crying poor and wants them to open their books to prove financial hardship. Owners say players have all the financial information they need.
The players would prefer to extend the current agreement, which owners say is not an option.
Can a lockout be avoided?
If progress is being made, the sides can agree to extend the current agreement until the new compromise is reached. With the sides having had just one formal bargaining session since Thanksgiving, that seems unlikely. At this point, it’s more a matter of how long it will last.
It could end quickly, which likely would leave the union fractured. Without a CBA, more than 500 free agents will be unable to sign contracts with lucrative bonuses, meaning approximately a fourth of the league’s players will be without immediate income. Benefits and medical insurance will cease, as well.
A deal could be struck midsummer, allowing teams to scramble to sign the free agents and rookies needed to fill out their rosters before training camp. A reduction of training camp and a change in the preseason format likely will be part of the new deal, which could make for a frantic and disorienting start to the 2011 season.
The worst-case scenario is the type of grudge match that wiped out the 1994 World Series and the 2004-05 NHL season. Although possible, there are too many billions at stake for the sides not to eventually come to their senses.
Which side has more leverage?
The owners are better equipped to deal with a lockout that could cost the league $1 billion by its own estimation if it lasts until the start of the regular season. They could reduce costs significantly by not paying salaries. TV deals would keep money rolling in even if no games were played, although it would be absorbed into future deals.
It’s not just short-term financial distress that could make players buckle. Sitting out a year in a sport where the average career lasts 31/2 seasons could be a deal breaker. There already have been fissures on the union side as some players have broken ranks via Twitter. The owners seem more united, although they are a disparate group. The Rooney family, which runs the Pittsburgh Steelers, could have radically different opinions on some key issues than, say, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Will there be an 18-game season?
As much as players loathe the idea of extending the regular season, and as hypocritical as the commissioner seems for campaigning for extra games during a season in which player safety has been emphasized like never before, expect it to happen. Goodell says fans want the extended season, but a recent Associated Press poll disputes his claim. There’s no debating that charging full price for four preseason games under the current format is akin to extortion, especially when the customer must purchase preseason games to secure season tickets.
A two-game preseason and a 16-game regular season is the ideal solution. Considering that would mean two fewer pay days, it won’t be seriously considered.
Players worry about injuries, and rightfully so. Other details would have to be worked out, such as prorating the time it takes for players to earn health care and pension benefits.
Goodell has suggested voluntary offseason workouts could be reduced and training camp could be shortened in exchange for the two extra games. Adding players — and therefore jobs — to NFL rosters likely will be another compromise. There even has been talk of adding a second bye week.
None of those potential compromises, however, are palatable to players who believe they are being asked to work more and earn less.
Because two additional games could generate $500 million, which could help players recoup their losses, they might have to live with it no matter how much they hate the idea.
Will there be a rookie wage scale?
Both sides agree there’s a need to implement rookie pay restraints. It’s how to redistribute the money saved that remains a sticking point.
The union has proposed a system where players would receive less up-front money, but their rookie contracts would be reduced from five to three years. Their plan also calls for some of the money saved to be distributed as incentives to players who are outperforming their contracts. Others want more money to go to veteran players who have proved their worth.
Either way, everyone can agree that a system that guaranteed rookie Sam Bradford $50 million while three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady signed a $48.5 million deal is a joke.
How will it affect the Bears?
The Bears have 48 players under contract. The Packers, meanwhile, have 68 (actually, 69 counting suspended defensive tackle Johnny Jolly). That means Bears general manager Jerry Angelo will have more players to sign to fill out his roster and likely will have less time than usual in which to do it.
If minicamps and organized team activities are canceled because of a lockout, new players will have less time to learn offensive and defensive schemes, which could make it more difficult for them to make an immediate impact. At least the Bears’ coaching staff has remained mostly intact. Imagine if players had to learn Mike Martz’s offense without the benefit of offseason workouts.
An extended season could make depth more important than ever. That would put even more pressure on Angelo to make better personnel decisions. Given that the offensive line still could be a work in progress, having a backup quarterback who can do more than manage games could become even more important during an extended season.
Other than that, it’s hard to say. These are largely uncharted waters. It’s difficult to know how teams will be affected until we know what the rules will be.