More than three months ago, yours truly proposed a simple idea for a solution to the labor impasse between the NFL owners and players.
The basics of the solution were this: Continue to divide the first $10 billion of revenue (currently, the revenues are more than $9.2 billion and expect to hit $10 billion by 2012 if all goes as expected) the way it was done from 2006 to 2009 (the formula didn't apply to 2010, an uncapped year). That means that the owners get a $1 billion credit off the top and the players get 60 percent of what's left (roughly $5.4 billion of the remaining $9 billion). After that, the owners get 60 percent of every dollar between $10 billion and $15 billion. Then, the players go back to earning 60 percent of every dollar between $15 billion and $20 billion. The owners would get a nice initial bump, giving them what they believe are the necessary dollars to reinvest in the game. Then, the players get the upside benefit of the later growth and would end up getting the 50-50 split they believe they deserve.
This week, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash said, "Your solution might actually work."
This is not grandstanding. While solving a $9 billion problem might seem daunting from a distance, there's a solution to be had if you know what everybody wants and the math really isn't that hard, particularly if I can do it (good thing I had a calculator). Yeah, there are some fine points to be worked out – such as what happens if it takes the NFL a long time to reach the $20 billion threshold – but those issues can be worked out.
With that in mind, here's a really bold idea for the players in the Brady et al vs. NFL: Make a proposal. Do it by Tuesday or Wednesday. Do it before the Friday lockout showdown in front of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
Do it not just because it might work, but because it will really tell you if the owners are telling the truth when they say time and again that they'd rather negotiate than litigate. If the owners – who were in a decidedly good mood this week during the league meetings in Indianapolis because they think they're going to prevail in court – truly want to get something done, they will realize that such a split can work both economically and politically.
If the owners don't respond to that kind of offer, then the players and the public will know they are full of it.
Right now, the perception is that the owners are about to get a whole lot more leverage by winning in the Eighth Circuit. Even so, the NFL keeps saying it wants to negotiate. On Tuesday, Pash reiterated the league's stance that the players could protect their rights in court while negotiating.
More important, Pash said the league isn't stuck on simply making the players take a fixed cost for the next four years, which is what the players were most angry about when negotiations broke off in early March. The players are particularly worried about that because the NFL will renegotiate its TV contracts in 2013 and 2014, meaning that revenue could skyrocket.
"There are a lot of ways to bridge those gaps," Pash said. "You could have a percentage basis. You could have a fixed level with some sort of a base, what has come to be called 'true up' to reflect revenue increases on some basis. There are some who have suggested that you take the share of revenues that players were receiving up to a certain point and then you modify, reduce the share of the next set of revenues. I have heard that suggestion as well. So there are a lot of ways that this could be done. It is really just a question of who is going to do it – by which I mean we should do that together. Those are decisions, issues and discussions best had between the clubs and the players rather than submitting them for courts, judges, juries, appeals and things like that. I think we can decide them quite capably."
For those who didn't follow that, what Pash is saying is that the owners are open to a deal that allows the players to make more if the league makes more. That's what the players want. All the other details, such as a rookie salary scale and a rule that forces players to return bonus money if they go to prison, can be worked out in a few hours.
But right now, the players need to show they're willing to talk.
Make an offer.