NFL Faces Potential Lockout

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been grappling with the NFL Players Association and a potential lockout of the 2011 season.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been grappling with the NFL Players Association and a potential lockout of the 2011 season.

After a seven-day extension gave the NFL and NFL Players Association (NFLPA) until March 11 to come to an agreement, the two sides never came to terms. The league is exercising its right under federal labor law to impose a lockout of the player’s union. The NFLPA has also decertified, allowing players to take their chances in court under anti-trust laws.

As owners, players and fans have feared for over a year now, the NFL offseason is now delayed until further notice. Free agency will not be able to begin until an agreement has been reached and players cannot work out at team facilities or with coaches. However the NFL Draft, scheduled for April 28, will still be held even without an agreement being reached. Players though, cannot be involved in draft day trades if there is no agreement.

It appears that the teams and players were only about $185 million apart on how much owners should receive up front each season before splitting the rest of the revenues with players. This is much less than the $1 billion apart they had been throughout most of the negotiations.

The NFLPA requested to see the teams’ finance books, but the owners refused. The NFL has claimed to be falling on hard times due to the economy and that the owners needed an extra $1 billion off the top to make ends meet and keep the league growing. The players union did not believe this and after being denied the chance to check the teams’ finances, decided not to accept the NFL’s proposal.

The NFL released the details of their proposal in a statement last Friday, which were as follows:

1. We more than split the economic difference between us, increasing our proposed cap for 2011 significantly and accepting the Union’s proposed cap number for 2014 ($161 million per club).

2. An entry-level compensation system based on the Union’s “rookie cap” proposal, rather than the wage scale proposed by the clubs.  Under the NFL proposal, players drafted in rounds 2-7 would be paid the same or more than they are paid today.  Savings from the first round would be reallocated to veteran players and benefits.

3. A guarantee of up to $1 million of a player’s salary for the contract year after his injury – the first time that the clubs have offered a standard multi-year injury guarantee.

4. Immediate implementation of changes to promote player health and safety by: Reducing the offseason program by five weeks, reducing OTAs from 14 to 10 and limiting on-field practice time and contact; limiting full-contact practices in the preseason and regular season; and increasing number of days off for players.

5. Commit that any change to an 18-game season will be made only by agreement and that the 2011 and 2012 seasons will be played under the current 16-game format.

6. Owner funding of $82 million in 2011-12 to support additional benefits to former players, which would increase retirement benefits for more than 2000 former players by nearly 60 percent.

7. Offer current players the opportunity to remain in the player medical plan for life.

8. Third party arbitration for appeals in the drug and steroid programs.

9. Improvements in the Mackey plan, disability plan and degree completion bonus program.

10. A per-club cash minimum spend of 90 percent of the salary cap over three seasons.

It seems that the NFL was willing to comply with many of the NFLPA’s requests. A higher salary cap means more money going to the players than the owners originally planned. The players wanted a rookie cap to prevent rookies from making more money than they reserve, which allows teams to give more money to worthy veterans. Benefits for retired players would also be increased in this proposal.

An important part of the proposal was that the teams were willing to allow more time to discuss an 18-game season. The players did not want to add the extra games, but this would give the two sides more time to discuss the matter.

The decertification of the NFLPA means that the players would rather settle the situation in court rather than at the negotiating table. This will likely be a longer and more painful process. It could take a month for the courts to make a ruling on the union’s injunction request and anti-trust judgments will likely take even longer. NFL fans will now need to be patient and hope something gets resolved before its too late.