With the news that the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to mediation, it's time to get a quick look at where the new CBA is and isn't.
The NFL players have taken a "we liked the old CBA" approach to the negotiations, and have pointed their fingers at the owners who opted out of what they considered a pretty good deal. Essentially, the players received about 50% of the money after the first billion was pulled out to pay for owners expenses. That's a very good deal for the players in general, although huge disparity still exists between the elite players and and their journeyman brothers. In a normal union, this disparity doesn't exist. In fact, it hurts the union if their is a lockout.
The multi-million dollar players can easily sit out months, even years in some cases, but the league minimum guys likely can't. This is especially true if injuries are involved, because they will have to pay to take care of those on their own if their is a lock-out. The way the union countered this in the past was to vote to disband the union. Without a union, a number of things happen. First of all, each player is representing himself. How can you lock out a player that has an active contract? The courts become involved as each player can now sue for breach of contract.
Second the NFL is only allowed to impose wage limits and limit free agency because they have essentially a waiver on the anti-trust law. The waiver is based upon there being a union and an agreement with the players. Without the waiver, wage fixing and limiting access to other employers violates the anti-trust law. Each team is seen as a seperate entity and they can't collude to fix market conditions within their market segment (they also can't fix ticket prices, but that's a different story).
The NFL has filed a complaint with National Labor Relations Board that contends the union had no intent to bargain in good faith. This complaint is an attempt to block the union's disolution which must be done before Mar 3 or else the union has to wait six months before they file a lawsuit.
The NFLPA was planning to decertify as a union before March 3. Players on each team have already approved the action and, technically, it has to be done before March 3 or else the union has to wait six months to file a lawsuit. That’s six months that could end up breaking the union.
The NFL, meaning mostly the owners, has argued that they need more money (an additional billion of the top) to be profitable. After all, they have to finance the business behind the games. They might be right, or they might be wrong, but they refuse to show their books to prove it. Legally they aren't required to, except for Green Bay, which is publicly held. The biggest question in my mind is how so many teams are allowed public funding for stadiums and yet aren't required to publicly show they need it. It seems our elected officials have some 'splaining to do.
The owners also argue that there should be a salary cap on rookies, which I might add is pretty much agreed by everyone. Just one look at Jamarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf, and you can see that top end rookie salaries make no sense for a guy that you are paying for "potential". The thing is, all other rookie salaries are pretty reasonable. In fact, once a rookie is bracketed, his deal is almost etched in stone. This is a point I'm sure the union would concede as long as the money saved went back to the players in other ways.
Finally, there is the fact the owners want 18 games instead of 16, because "It's what the fans want." In addition, they don't want to increase roster size or pay players any more for regular season games. Now is 18 games "what the fans want"? In poll after poll, the answer is no. Feel free to vote yourselves down below. What the fans said is, "Why should we have to pay regular price (especially on season tickets) to see what is essentially an exhibition game?" What the owners heard is that "fans don't want exhibition games". That's not necessarily true; they just want a price break (meaning the owners, again, get less money). The pre-season games aren't nearly as popular on TV (although most of them are only shown locally anyway) as their regular season counterparts.
Many of the newly drafted rookies only get playing time in the exhibition games. By the time they see the field during the regular season, it might be their third year. It gives fans a chance to see the whole 80 man roster before it gets pared down to 53 + 8 practice squad guys. Taking away 2 games changes the whole dynamic of evaluating guys and preparing your roster cuts. Guys have to show up quickly or not at all. Which will tend to keep roster changes to a minimum. In addition, the team in general has two weeks less practice time to start the season, making the additional games nothing more than "exhibition game quality" except they affect your season standings. A diluted product.
Everything that has happened so far has been posturing. The Union, "We'll disband and settle this in court." The NFL, "We'll block your disbanding and starve you out." It's time to let cooler heads prevail. Hopefully, mediation is a step in the right direction. The people that suffer most from a game stoppage aren't even at the bargaining table.