Literally everything that will happen for the Kansas City Chiefs this off-season could be dramatically decided by midnight Thursday as the National Football League and the player’s union continue to try and hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
The current agreement expires in three days and if a new deal isn’t worked out – or an extension isn’t agreed upon – the owners have threatened a lockout of all players beginning on Friday.
For the Chiefs and the other 32 teams, a lockout means the normal off-season news of signing free agents and draft picks will be eliminated. Organized Team Activities (OTAs), mini-camps, and a full training camp that sets the foundation for the team in the fall will be eliminated or dramatically altered.
For the players, there will be no trades, no free agency, no moving to another team to better their playing situation, no contract renegotiations – nothing. There won’t be anyone to negotiate with. Draft picks will sit unsigned and not getting ready for the upcoming season and the overwhelming amount of new plays and terminology they need to learn. Undrafted rookies will sit in uncertainty not knowing if they’ll even have a chance to compete for a job.
If nothing is done by Friday, it could very well be August before the two sides get their act together as there aren’t any critical financial repercussions for either side to get anything done before then. By August, the owners will be faced with empty stadiums on Sundays and the players will start missing checks.
And of course, the people that get really screwed in all of this are the regular working folks that sell concessions during games, help fans find their seats, clean up the stadiums before, during and after games and produce some of the best fan experiences in all of sports.
The following article is a sort of 2011 NFL Labor Strife Primer for understanding the main issues about why a group of owners and players can’t seem to agree on how to split up a multi-BILLION dollar pie.
1. When does the current collective bargaining agreement expire? The current CBA expires at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday, March 3.
2. What happens then? The NFL owners will most likely lock-out the players from all activities and contact with the teams. There will be no working out at the stadiums, no contract negotiations, and no getting medical attention from the team doctors and surgeons unless it’s on the player’s dime. No bonuses, salaries or benefits for the players either.
3. What will the player’s union do if there is a lockout? The union has been preparing for a lockout for probably two years, telling their members to put money aside to live on just in case there is not a 2011 season. Remember, every player from Peyton Manning to the last guy on the roster of the Carolina Panthers only get paid during the season. Last summer during the preseason, the players voted to allow the NFLPA to de-certify itself (to change from a union to a group of individual non-union workers) which would prevent the owners from locking the players out. The owners recently filed a complaint against the union for unfair negotiating practices because of that. That says to me that the owners are somewhat worried that the NFLPA might go through with that plan.
4. Is there a chance that the two sides could agree to extend the current CBA? Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my rear end. Ok, ok … to be fair, there is always a chance that they could make some breakthroughs this week and decide to continue to work under the current agreement. However, this negotiation is just like any negotiation between management and labor and neither side wants to look like they’ve given in. A handful of hard-line owners want to completely change the financial structure of the league and believe that a lockout is the only way to accomplish it.
5. So what in the world are they fighting about? Money. Plain and simple. The National Football league annual revenue is approximately $9 billion. In the past, the owners have been allowed to set $1 billion aside for expenses and the player’s then received 59.5 percent of the rest. With the rising costs of building, improving and maintaining stadiums, the owners want to set aside an additional billion dollars for themselves. The owners are NOT claiming that they’re losing money, but they are saying that if things don’t change, the league could face catastrophic financial problems in the future. Right now, that is the salient point the two sides are fighting over. There are other issues – such as increasing the regular season from 16 to 18 games, or improving retired player’s health benefits – but they can all be worked out once the central issue of the billion dollars is settled.
6. What do the players want? The players have been far less vocal in the press about their demands, but they would be happy with the status quo along with better health benefits and post-career coverage, which currently expire five years after they retire. They would also like a separate appeals process for Commissioner Goodell’s fines and penalties for conduct and drug use. As far as the fight over the extra billion dollars, the players feel like the owners should be able to create a more equitable profit-sharing system among themselves instead of cutting a billion out of the player’s share of the league revenues.
7. If there is a lockout, will there still be a draft in April? Yes. The draft will be held as usual on April 28-30, but if there is no CBA, none of those rookies can be signed to a contract. One of the things that the owners and NFLPA will eventually agree upon is a rookie salary cap patterned after the one used by the NBA. In it, there will probably be some form of slotting done where any rookie knows what he will be paid depending on where he is drafted. This virtually eliminates drawn-out negotiations, holdouts, and bad blood between rookies and the teams. In effect, this frees up more money for the veterans who have played in the league instead of spending $80 million on a rookie quarterback that has never taken a snap as a pro.
8. Wouldn’t a lockout ruin the entire rookie class for the year? This is my personal viewpoint because the NFL has become a league where most rookies have a daunting learning curve. Take Eric Berry of the Chiefs. A gifted athlete and possibly the best pure football player taken in last year’s draft, Berry did not hold out, did not miss many off-season OTAs, and didn’t miss a single day of training camp. Yet, Berry struggled in the beginning of the season and was burned often by the other team. It was only in the last third of the season where he adjusted and became a stand-out player. Think what will happen to this year’s rookie class if there is only an abbreviated training camp of maybe two weeks without a single OTA? This class will almost have a lost year. That’s a lot of money the owners will be throwing away even if there is a rookie salary cap. Hundreds of undrafted rookie free agents might as well head north to the Canadian Football League if this happens.
9. Can current NFL players go to the CFL if there is a lockout? Even if they are under contract, they can go to the CFL and play if they choose to do that. However, once the new CBA is reached, they would have to return immediately to the NFL. Those players would be taking a HUGE risk of getting injured, however and possibly voiding their current NFL contract. Free agents and fringe NFL players may flock to the CFL to work on their games and stay sharp.
10. How would teams like the Chiefs be affected by the lockout? Luckily, Todd Haley has the bulk of his staff together and they have two years of working together under their belts, so the Chiefs won’t be as affected as a team like the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers hired Ron Rivera, who has never been a head coach in the NFL. He hasn’t even held a mini-camp practice yet with his players, so teams with first-time head coaches would be behind the eight ball right off the bat.
11. Do you really think they’ll jeopardize the status of the most popular sport in America? Yep. Sadly, there are too few owners who have been willing to sacrifice some personal gain for the health of the league. The late Lamar Hunt was legendary for his willingness to work with the players and other owners, and I see nothing about current Chiefs owner, Clark Hunt, that makes me think he’s different from his father. But, there are the owners like the Panthers Jerry Richardson who seemingly delight in combating with the union. He even went so far as to personally insult quarterbacks Drew Brees and Peyton Manning to their face a few weeks ago in a bargaining session the two QBs were attending. Dude, the LAST players you want to insult are the face of your league (Manning), and one of the most respected guys who has helped restore pride and civic honor to an NFL city destroyed by Hurricane Katrina (Brees).
12. So when will something get done? It’s the Pollyanna spirit in me that thinks maybe they can get something done by Thursday and maybe extend the current CBA for another few months. But then the realist in me knows that the bluster and war of words will overcome common sense and nothing will happen until August. Players will start missing checks … owners will be on the brink of losing money … television networks will be looking at massive holes in their programming … and fans will start to revolt. Team general managers will have over 700 veteran free agents and no rookies under contract and will be rushed to put together a roster. If I were a betting man, I’d say the 18-game schedule idea will be scrapped and teams will lose two of the four pre-season games and they’ll get something done.
But we can all hope that sanity prevails. I know if it was me, I’d tell the owners that they weren’t going to get a dime of my money for season tickets until they settled. Maybe if the fans were to lockout the owners??? Hmmmmm ….
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