Goodell has other issues before expanding schedule
DeMaurice Smith can only hope his Wednesday meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell goes more smoothly than his recent travel plans.
But even then, the NFL Players Association executive director should brace for plenty of turbulence during the latest round of labor talks.
Unable to come back from Kansas City on Monday night because of inclement weather, Smith eschewed a Tuesday return to NFLPA headquarters in Washington. He instead flew to New York in preparation for a negotiating session with Goodell and other league officials about the expiring collective bargaining agreement.
Smith will find storm clouds there as well. The main topic of conversation will be Goodell’s pitch for an 18-game regular season.
Although team owners don’t cut their season-ticket holders any break when it comes to pricing, Goodell knows four exhibition games is a fan rip-off. He'd rather reduce the preseason and possibly even offseason practices in hopes of offsetting the extra wear and tear players endure.
The idea makes sense on many levels. However, it’s unrealistic to expect change in 2011. These two sides couldn’t agree on what color a football is right now, let alone all the details of what schedule expansion would entail.
Though NFL and NFLPA representatives have met privately over the past year, neither side has publicly hinted a work stoppage can be prevented by next March. Team owners weren’t seriously inclined to negotiate this offseason while slashing player payrolls by tens of millions of dollars. The NFL may opt to drag talks deep into next summer hoping the union will break, unless the NFLPA receives a favorable ruling after recently filing a complaint about the league’s latest television contract. If the $4 billion the NFL is guaranteed for 2011 games is placed in escrow rather than split among the franchises, the league should be more willing to grant concessions and hasten negotiations.
Overhauled revenue sharing, drug testing for human growth hormone, retired player benefits and a rookie salary cap are some of the hot-button issues that'll be addressed in the new CBA. Gauging the impact of an 18-game schedule is just as tricky.
Among the questions that must be answered:
• How will player salaries be affected? Proration isn’t necessarily a cut-and-dried solution from an NFLPA standpoint, especially when it comes to signing bonus and contract length. For example, Denver guard Chris Kuper recently signed an extension through the 2015 season, but if the season's expanded by two games starting in 2011, he'll be forced to play an extra 10 games at his current salary before being able to test the free-agent market again. This may be one of the reasons Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have yet to sign new deals until both quarterbacks have a better idea of the NFL’s future landscape.
• Will the amount of playing time needed to qualify for NFL pension and insurance benefits change with a longer season?
• How much greater is the health risk? The potential shortening of careers – even with the opportunity for greater salaries – shouldn’t be taken lightly. This is especially true among the league’s best players, whose teams play even more games by regularly reaching the playoffs.
• Will the injured-reserve, PUP and roster-size rules stay the same?
Ultimately, the 18-game schedule will come to pass. There’s too much money involved for it not to happen. But unless some progress is made Wednesday, I get the feeling this expansion will be grounded before taking flight in 2012.