With the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expiring March 4, a very real probability exists that there will be no football, at least for a time, in 2011. With that here are my thoughts and questions as the millionaires fight the billionaires for the last buck:
1) Who do we blame for the lack of football in 2011? Americans place blame, it's what we do, so let's look at who is to blame. First of all we could blame the players who get paid big money to play a game, albeit for a very short time in some cases. We could blame the fans who made the NFL so successful that they could even consider a lockout. And finally, we can blame the owners who get publicly funded stadiums and yet still cry broke after the billions are divided.
My vote goes toward blaming the owners. First of all, they could have kept the current CBA, yet opted out of it. The players and fans had no part in that. Second, owners like Jerry Richardson, seem bent on forcing a lockout to break the union. Third, if they are successful in court, the NFLPA will not be able to disband like last time forcing the NFL to abide by anti-trust laws (from which they are currently exempt). That would remove the best card from the unions hand. In the court of public opinion, I find the owners guilty if we lack football this year.
2) How will the lack of a pre-season or even regular season games affect the Patriots? While the Patriots have a fairly young team, they had a pretty strong team last year. While some QB's have mentioned getting together with their receivers away from the facility (like Brady did with Welker last year), the union thinks this would be a bad idea. Essentially, the owners get something for nothing and the players take all of the injury risk. Still Welker vowed to help Tom back the way Brady helped Wes back, so I could see some of that happening in a field in southern California.
The lack of practice time is going to hurt rookies the most this season. Face it Tom Brady has thrown more passes than any rookie will ever receive, and his receivers can call up their QBFF if they have questions. Wes could use some one-on-one time with the Jugs machine (I think he owns one). The linemen can lift anywhere as Mankins proved. Many vets don't even work out in Foxboro until training camp.
The rookies need to learn the system, though, and that happens much quicker when everyone is under one roof. The team that NEEDS its rookies the least is the one that will be sitting in the best spot once the season starts. In that regard, the Pats are looking pretty good.
3) Are the players the victims in the CBA war? I've got to say no. If anything the fans and support staff are the victims. The players say that they aren't asking for any more money, and that is true. The question is, whether their slice is too big to begin with. While some owners dig into public pockets for their stadiums, other owners find private funding and pay for stadium upkeep. This can be a big expense. How big? If they'd open their books we could find out. One could argue that stadium money should be taken off the top as the price of doing business. Without it, the NFL doesn't rake in the wads of cash it does.
4) Is the players union looking out for the players? Again, I've got to say no. First of all, the player's union caters to active players and trying to increase their revenue. Active players tend to become retired players in about three years. That's a quick turn around. The union is not necessarily even looking out for player safety. How about an 18 game season? Only if we get paid more. They should focus on long term benefits and helping players that have retired. If the game chews you up and spits you out, the only guys that are going to look out for your needs are other players, and they aren't doing that.
The other problem I have here is with the "haves" and the "have nots". In a "team" sport, having a guy earn 2000% to 5000% more than the guy next to him doesn't sit right. They both risk the same injuries daily and the lower earning guy probably won't get to play as long in the league, meaning he'll earn even less long term. In a normal union, this disparity wouldn't exist. It's alive and well in the player's union.
5) Will a lockout hurt the league? Short term: Yes. Long term: Tough to say. The league seems to keep raking in money even in a downturn economy. First of all, there is the $4 billion they will still make in TV revenue even if games aren't played. But, and there is a but, that money is really in exchange for games the next year if it comes to that. Essentially, they don't get $4,000,000,000 (that's a load of zeroes) for turning out no product. The 2011 money becomes a pre-payment on 2012 product. So eventually, the NFL will lose TV money, but not right away.
Second there is the European market which doesn't have the same history with the NFL. If there is no football game in London in 2011, will they still want the game in 2012? They've worked hard to make inroads there and they may lose them with a lockout. Again, long term, it's tough to tell how that might impact the NFL.
Third, there are stadium deals in the potential mix. For instance in Minnesota, the dome collapse has increase some government support for a new stadium. Those lawmakers still have to answer to the public who might question giving money to owners when no football is actually being played. At bare minimum, it might push back stadium talk until the CBA is done. By then, the political climate may have changed.
Feel free to discuss your own thoughts on the CBA.