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Let’s Make a Deal

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

One side plays a game – albeit a violent one – for millions of dollars and fan adoration. The other side is a good old boys club coveting riches beyond what they have already achieved. We, the fans, are casualties of the fracas, helplessly watching the parties squabble over how to slice a $9 billion pie. If only the lip service we are being paid by both sides counted for anything.

A memo to both parties: the NFL is not magical. There is no guarantee that it will continue to be ridiculously popular, especially if this ugly, public fight is dragged out for months and threatens the season. This is 2011, not 1987 or even 2006; the 24/7 news cycle and Twitter give the fans far more access to the details than ever before, and we are completely sick of it already. Trying to placate your consumers – you know, the ones without whom lucrative television contracts would dry up and stadiums would sit empty – with meaningless pledges and fake apologies does little to help.

As such, the league wants to continue negotiating, while the players feel like the owners are yanking their chains – no pun intended, Adrian Peterson. All the accusations and the he-said-he-said being played out in the public courtroom is pointless. DeMaurice Smith and Jeff Pash, among many others, need to stop firing public salvos and just get back to the bargaining table. I am nowhere near the first person to say they just need to get a deal done! So here is one I can suggest:

1) Split projected revenue 55/45

This seems like a rather obvious compromise – the owners want a 60/40 split of revenue, and the players want to split it 50/50. The players justifiably want to see justification for anything worse than an even split, and the owners have offered to show profitability data from the past five seasons. Before the lockout, the owners increased their offer to 44% of projected revenue, yet the NFLPA* never budged from their 50% demand. But compromise is a “settlement of differences by mutual concessions” after all, and both sides need to be willing to concede to get a deal done.

2) Split excess revenue 60/40

The NFLPA* took umbrage with the league’s final pre-decertification offer, but for no bigger reason than the dubious exclusion of a “true-up” clause, essentially giving the owners all of the revenue if it exceeded projections. Considering the proposals also dubiously projected much lower growth than in recent years, I understand why the players wanted to pore over the books. I could almost hear the nervous laughter from Packers CEO Mark Murphy when he stated that a “true-up” clause was essentially implied in any final agreement, but I can see where this could have seemed insulting to the players.

The league is protecting its players in the unlikely event that revenue declines, so it is only fair that the owners get a bigger cut of the excess revenue. Putting this in any offer will lessen the need for the players to look at the NFL’s books in great detail, because they would be guaranteed a good revenue split even if revenue goes beyond projections.

3) Offer health insurance for life and injury guarantees

Professional football players have notoriously short life spans, and debilitating injuries that can last a lifetime. Still, this would be an unprecedented deal, one that the owners have already included in their offer. Apparently, the NFLPA* has advised players that this offer comes with a caveat – Anthony Gonzalez prepared a response to Roger Goodell’s letter that included a rebuttal of the health insurance offer saying that the insurance would be cancelled if a player were to receive new employment. Whether or not this is true, the ability to purchase health insurance through the NFL for life is huge for the players, at great cost to the owners in the long run.

If I were the owners – and frankly, the players – this part of the deal would come with a mandate for players to utilize better safety equipment. Aaron Rodgers credits his new, high-tech helmet in shielding him from another concussion late in the season and playoffs. If the NFL is going to pony up all this money for lifetime health insurance, the least the players could do is try to protect themselves better, no matter how silly they think they look.

Another unprecedented offer was the one owners made to guarantee salaries for a year after a player gets injured. Keep that in there, owners.

4) Implement a structured rookie compensation system

Goodell’s crusade to get a wage scale should come to fruition. The NFLPA* had been willing to accept this as part of an offer before they de-certified, and even though part of the antitrust lawsuit against the NFL includes the rookie wage scale, there is no reason why the players should not ultimately agree to this. The lawsuit alleges rookie contracts will severely limit earnings, and being that the average NFL career is less than four seasons, the argument sounds reasonable.Being that the NFL offered a rookie scale that actually improved rookie salaries for anyone drafted beyond the first round, the career average of players drafted in the first round is the relevant number, one which I could not find. Either way, first round contracts need to be reined in; they have been out of control for years. If this happens to have the unintended consequence of keeping a few kids in school to graduate every year, even better.

At any rate, the NFL has already conceded any savings from a wage scale should go to veterans. The wage scale would limit the length of a rookie contract so the ones who perform well can capitalize on their success sooner than later – it lets the deserving guys make the money when they have proven worthy. This makes a ton of sense.

5) Dramatically reduce draft pick compensation for restricted free agents

The Frustrate Tag, as I like to call it, is too powerful. So is restricted free agency. When was the last time a player who was franchised or tendered with high draft picks signed with a different team? The current system creates a lazy way for teams to keep their players, and it sows malcontent – just ask Logan Mankins, Vincent Jackson, etc.

This part of the deal does two things: eliminates the franchise tag altogether, and makes the maximum restricted free agent tender a second-round draft pick. If the Franchise Tag were eliminated and restricted free agency neutered, players would be able to sign better deals more easily, and clubs would have to actually work to keep their players instead of slapping them with franchise tags and high-round tenders. This would certainly be a win for players, but one that also amounts to a win for the fans, whose free agency hopes are shot down with every franchise tag announcement.

6) Reduce off-season activities

Owners have already proposed a compromise on this issue, offering to reduce mandatory off-season workouts from 14 weeks to 10, and reducing contact during training camp. The NFLPA* originally demanded steeper reductions, but this is a negotiation after all. I would even go as far as reducing the preseason games by one if I were the owners to three games overall, something even more palatable to the players. The players already won the 18-game battle – one that the NFL really intended to lose, but a win is a win.

7) Increase retiree benefits for players

Another proposal the owners have already offered, and I do not see any reason to quibble over this. Those players need a dramatic increase in pension, and they should get one.

These are the major points in CBA discussions as far as I know. Obviously I do not have all of the information, and I do not care to get into the nitty gritty of a potential deal. My point is this: compromise is achievable. Why is this not happening? I have a sneaking suspicion that the lawyers are the real problem here – after all, once a deal is done they will not have these deep pockets to pick. The general points I have outlined does not seem a bad deal for either side. Even if I am way off base, there is no reason why both sides should not continue to try to hammer out a deal on an ongoing basis.