For years, Cincinnati owner Mike Brown has been a whipping boy for critics of the Bengals, and those who skewer the franchise for a perception of years of penurious spending habits. To suggest that outsiders consider Brown and the Bengals as cheap would be a gross understatement.
But Brown, who was one of only two owners to vote against the expired collective bargaining agreement in 2006 (Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson was the other), looked a lot smarter when, just two years after approving the labor deal, league owners voted unanimously to opt out of it. And he might be slowly changing his perceived stance on the NFL’s latest supposed proposal, unveiled on Tuesday to owners.
The widely held assumption has been that Brown, because he is a small-market owner, might oppose many of the financial tenets that were presented Tuesday to owners in Chicago as the possible foundation for an agreement. But word from the meeting, where there was admittedly little leakage about the sentiments of some individual owners, is that Brown is actually on the fence about several of the elements of a possible accord.
According to the presumptive details first reported by Chris Mortensen of ESPN, and subsequently confirmed by several owners, one of the proposed stipulations is that clubs spend close to 100 percent of a year’s salary cap "FLOOR" number in terms of real payroll. The spending floor would be about 90-93 percent of the total cap limit. And, of interest — and, frankly, surprise — to many of his critics, Brown already has done so.
Unlike many of his free-spending peers, Brown and the Bengals don’t believe in investing future money. The collective mindset of the Bengals is to prefer a "pay as you go" philosophy, one that attempts to avoid so-called "dead money." It might surprise a lot of people, but Cincinnati often comes closer to the cap, in terms of actual payroll, than some franchises with higher cap numbers.
According to several owners with whom The Sports Xchange spoke after the meeting’s adjournment Tuesday, there seemed to be less opposition than had been portrayed by the media before the caucus. One suggested that, based on his unofficial "nose count," there was nothing close to the nine opposition votes it would take to scuttle a deal.
Of course, as commissioner Roger Goodell pointed out and owners emphasized — and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith noted in a conference call to player reps later in the week — there remains considerable work to be accomplished. Just in terms of the practical work involved — committing an agreement from a handshake to contract language, having attorneys review the pact, ensuring court approval and having the rank-and-file vote on an accord — is time consuming. But there may not be as many owner/roadblocks as people thought there might be.
None of that is to suggest that Brown’s "no" vote of 2006 will turn into a "yes" five years later, but it might.
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.