June 23, 2011
Momentum was running high through Tuesday's owners meetings, as all indications pointed us in the direction of a (relatively) unified group of owners ready to make their latest best proposal to the players when the two sides met in Boston on Wednesday and Thursday. Those meetings, added to the three weeks of confidential meetings in different areas of the country through the month of June, finally put both sides on the same page — at least, to a point.
Now, according to CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman, it seems that the players will be okay with the broad strokes of the proposal as presented.
Though the players explained to me they don't like everything they know about it thus far -- the true sign of a good deal is when both sides are unhappy about some aspect of it and that seems to be the case -- overall they think it's a solid one for the players.
"Most guys won't love this new CBA," said one player, "but they'll live with it."
The main point of contention, as we and many others have said, is that the length of the new deal — up to 10 years with unknown opt-out clauses — might allow the owners to put a fixed percentage on radically increasing television revenue over the next decade. That's where "True-ups" come in. The players want a true and equitable cut of that increased revenue without any sense that they're getting shafted, which is why a fixed percentage makes far more sense than a sliding scale based on revenue. But the general feeling is that with all those new profits on the horizon (relating to new TV deals starting in 2014), the NFLPA will be okay with a revenue take that tips off at around 48 percent and wouldn't fall below 46.5 percent.
One of the reasons they'd be happy with that structure is another point of order that will force teams to commit at least 90 percent, and perhaps closer to 100 percent, of the annual salary cap in actual cash commitments. In other words, no funny money — teams won't be able to massage the cal floor by allotting 80 percent to actual player costs, and another 10-15 percent to deferred money and not-likely-to-be-earned incentives. Many teams will be forced to commit more to player costs even with a lower cap.
The new revenue streams will also mean increased benefits for retired players, and you can bet that the NFLPA will want the player costs shaved off with a new rookie cap to go to the retired players as well. That's been the NFLPA's intention all along in agreeing to a rookie wage scale in principle; estimates indicate possible $250 million in player costs reduced, depending on the agreement. In the end, I think the owners will go light on the rookie wage scale in exchange for extended first contracts, especially for first-round picks. You could see five-year deals for first-rounders, and four years for everybody else.
Speaking of four years, that's another major win for the players — going back to four-year free agency openings instead of the six years in the capless season of 2010. Other compensations for capless operations, like the "Final Eight" rule (in which the last eight playoff teams are restricted in their free agency operations) will likely head the way of the dodo bird as well.
We're still likely a couple weeks away from an agreement, but more signs point to a full football season every day. We'll keep you posted as events dictate.
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