Don't panic over NFL labor talks ... yet

BY foxsports • February 11, 2011

Oh my goodness!! It’s over!! Talks broke down between the owners and players!! Reports say the two sides are miles apart. Are you reading these statements? There will never be a deal!! No football in 2011!!

Let’s all just slow down and take a deep breath. Actually, make that multiple deep breaths. It is going to be a long, emotional, zany, frustrating couple of weeks.

Lucky for you, I have great editors at FOXsports.com, who suggested that I write a fans’ guide to the labor situation heading up until March 4. We will attack it with a “Joe Six Pack” approach. We will tell you what to look for and when to look for it; when to ignore the madness and when to go absolutely bonkers.

Grab a cold one. Take a seat. I’ll walk you through the next four weeks.

Friday, Feb. 11

It sounds ugly. You see talks this past Wednesday and you rightly get encouraged. The football fan is still feeling the good vibes from a great season and an excellent Super Bowl. The league’s popularity (did you see the astronomical Super Bowl ratings on FOX?) has never been higher. You start to believe that the owners and players know they have a responsibility to get a deal done.

And then the bomb drops.

Both sides walk away from a scheduled sit-down on Thursday. The pow-wow for next Tuesday is canceled. The owners were reportedly disgusted with the players’ original stance on how to split the $9 billion in revenue. The owners flatly refused the players' association concept to take half of all revenue, 50 cents on the dollar.

Panic sets in. Arrows and barbs are being thrown. But don’t worry – yet. We have three weeks. I know you are disappointed, but walking out of a negotiation is a great way to drive focus and a sense of urgency. It gets the antennas up.

Meanwhile, Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Journal reported on Thursday that DeMaurice Smith said in a memo to the NFL players that the league’s solution to the rookie wage scale problem would affect players with 3-5 years experience. According to Mullen, the league wants a system where first-round picks get five-year deals, with four-year contracts for the other rounds.

The players association wants max deals of four years for players picked in rounds 1-3 and three-year deals for those selected in rounds 4-7. Roger Goodell told me this winter that he feels strongly about eliminating the current out-of-control salary structure for players who haven’t played a down. But off of this proposal, the union is unhappy with the later date for top young players getting paid in free agency.

I actually think this issue will work itself out at the negotiation table. From talking to key figures like Goodell, NFLPA president Kevin Mawae and Colts president Bill Polian, I’m not surprised the players and owners took these early stands. All sides, including general managers, coaches and current players, with the lone exception being the high-powered agents, want it to change. This will get worked out.

Friday, Feb. 18

So I am not worried on the 11th about the breakdown in talks. OK, by this point next week we better have more conversations, some lengthy negotiation sessions. The conversations need to be kept as private as possible. But when the inevitable leaks come out, keep an eye on the percentage of the pie. DeMaurice Smith says he won’t go lower than the current value of the players getting 60 percent of all revenues. Roger Goodell wants it lowered to about 41percent. That’s a heck of a gap.

And also follow these two issues from the owners; if they are pressed will they open their books and do you sense a divide between the “haves” (think Washington, Philadelphia and Dallas) and the “have nots” (think Cincinnati, Carolina and Buffalo). Now is also the time to focus on the controversial 18-game regular season, which Goodell is pushing to increase revenue. The players are rightly leery because of injury. Will the players accept an 18-game regular season if they get a bigger piece of the proverbial pie?

Don’t be surprised when you hear things like “OK, the players are cool with the owners’ plan for contracts for draft picks” if something like restricted free agency goes away forever and there are adjustments to the always-controversial franchise tag. And pay attention to how the franchise tag is being used.

If you start to hear about a temporary extension of the CBA, this is a good thing, although I don’t think that will happen.

Friday, Feb. 25

It’s the annual scouting combine in Indy. The agents better be there. The incoming players better be there. There needs to be a resolution, or close to it, on the ultimate sticking point of the 18-game regular season. Pay close attention to the commentary from the very powerful Tom Condon., the super agent who will be most affected by a change in the rookie payment structure.

Listen closely to what the players are saying about insurance and rehabbing injuries. These are underrated buzz words.

This is the time where football fans will start to panic. Do you pay for season tickets? Could the NFL and the players actually do this to the paying customer? You really become skeptical. You will be checking FOXsports.com non-stop for Jay Glazer’s breaking news and nuggets from Alex Marvez. You will think football won’t be played this year. You will really start focusing on Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi from spring training, Jeff “Scoop” Goodman breaking down potential tournament teams, and our award-winning NASCAR coverage. Can any team in baseball beat the Phillies? Is it Duke’s year? Here we go ...

Thursday, March 3

If we still don’t have a deal, now is the time to go to church, go to temple, go somewhere and pray. Gather your boys for some tailgating. It might be the last you are doing for quite some time. If we get to March 4 without a new deal, there is no sense of urgency to get one done. Forget about the draft, mini-camp and training camp as key dates. I only believe in one key date and that is March 4. You sound the alarms here. For the record, I think the powers on both sides understand that the American public in these economic times will not tolerate billionaires fighting millionaires to the extent that it ruins the NFL. Football fans live for their offseason and then the season. But if the owners are walking away from the table on March 3 ... PANIC!



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