NFL owners hold upper hand over players

BY Alex Marvez • March 23, 2010

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell disputes that there will ultimately be a winner and loser in Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations with the league’s players union.

“It is a win-win situation,” Goodell said when asked Monday at the NFL owners meeting.

In the long run, that may be the case. But there’s no doubt who’s in the lead right now.

It isn’t the NFL Players Association.

Because of clauses in the final year of the current CBA, this season will be remembered as the largest money grab by franchise owners in league history. With the exception of a few expensive signings like defensive end Julius Peppers (Chicago) and linebacker Karlos Dansby (Miami), spending in free agency is drastically reduced from previous years. Teams are still operating as if there’s a salary cap even though there isn’t one in 2010.

New rules that increased the number of completed seasons required for unrestricted free agency from four to six have kept some of the league’s top players from testing the market. There also is no minimum spending floor like in previous seasons, which means payrolls are being drastically slashed. Most franchises are recouping the tens of millions of dollars they claim was lost over the past four years in what was deemed an unacceptable CBA agreement.

Goodell said no substantive talks with the NFLPA have taken place in the past few weeks. None will likely be scheduled until April. Even then, don’t expect much progress.

A work stoppage when the CBA expires next March seems inevitable. The recent prediction by FOX Sports president Ed Goren that the CBA issue wouldn’t be resolved until August 2011 right before the scheduled start of the regular season seems spot-on. Goodell even admitted Monday that the league is just entering the “first quarter” of negotiations even though serious talks should have started long ago if the NFL was serious about striking a deal that would have prevented the CBA changes.

“The best thing I can say is that we’re still at a very early stage,” Goodell said. “Let’s allow the collective bargaining process to continue.”

NFL owners are in no rush. They shouldn’t be. They hold all the cards.

Players have little leverage. Restricted free agents unhappy with their contract tenders can skip minicamps and offseason programs, which won’t make head coaches happy. But the top RFAs will sign before June 15 or risk having their 2010 salaries significantly reduced from the current offers given. NFL owners also are better prepared than players financially to handle a prolonged work stoppage.

New NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith already faced a daunting task trying to replace the late Gene Upshaw. The job will become even tougher unless Smith can find pressure points to put owners on their heels.

I’d go over the nuances of what is being argued between both sides, but most fans truly don’t care. They just want to see football played without interruption. In this nation’s current financial climate, there is little sympathy for tycoons and millionaire athletes squabbling over who gets how much of a roughly $10 billion NFL pie in 2010.

“If we can create the right economic system, we can grow the game,” Goodell said. “If we can encourage the investment and the innovation, all the opportunities continue to expand. By doing that, you grow the pool and there is more to share. Everyone benefits from that.

“I firmly believe, and I think our ownership also does, that this is an opportunity to create a win-win situation.”

Otherwise, everyone loses.

Alex Marvez will appear with co-host Vic Carucci from 8 to 11 p.m. E.S.T. Tuesday on Sirius NFL Radio. He also will provide an update from the owner’s meetings at 2:30 p.m. E.S.T. on Sirius.

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