Can the 2010 Labor Agreement Changes Help the NFL?
To many, the threat of an uncapped season ominously walks the hallowed walls of the NFL. It lurks in the shadows, waiting to pounce on innocent bystanders reveling in the league's good fortune.
Many think the NFL is untouchable. It isn't. Those who believe that, need to look no further than every other major sports league in North America.
As the NFL has become America's true pastime, America's Pastime (MLB), the NHL and NBA, each at one time deemed untouchable and insulated from any kind of danger, overreached and chose to hide their scars instead of heal them.
The current salary cap system is old, outdated and not necessary to the league's survival, as it once was when it was initiated. Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw seemed to have an understanding with each other.
Both were willing to look the other way on many issues Roger Goodell, and new NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith have promised to address.
Tastes change, people get angry, people get mad, people get bored. Companies last because they innovate, evolve and stay current with societal needs and wants. Where many leagues have failed, the NFL has the potential to evolve properly.
If the NFL and the NFLPA cannot reach a new labor agreement by the spring of 2010, cap limits and floors disappear. If the league reaches that point, it is safe to assume that the current version of the cap and free agency will never return.
Many are predicting Armageddon. Likening the change akin to what occurred before free agency started in football on the '80's and early '90s. With only a few franchises, dynasties in essence, dominating the league and skirting around many rules.
Many want to make a convoluted comparison between the potential 2010 changes and with the way baseball operates. With the teams with the most revenue more willing to hand out the money for top talent.
This may be true in theory, but they shouldn't be compared.
One of baseball's biggest, and most unaddressed issue, is how the rich teams spend their money so freely on risky international players, while the small market teams cannot. By taking more risks on international players, teams have the opportunity to find a true mega-star like Ichiro Suzuki, or a big bust like Hideki Irabu.
Alas, in the nine World Series' since 2000, there have been eight different winners, and only two teams, the Yankees (3) and Red Sox (2), have made multiple appearances. In essence, despite there being enormous differences in team salaries, baseball has found parity.
As a Bills fan, I beg to differ from the Armageddon theory. If nothing changes and the uncapped season happens, more change comes with it.
Specifically, severe limitations on the league's top eight teams ability to land free agents and a bump from the current four years to six years of service before a player hits unrestricted free agency, would significantly help small market teams like the Bills.
Obviously, these changes will give teams more time to develop their own players, and increase their odds of landing the more experienced free agent player or players who might push a team over the top.
The extra years should also allow teams to make less mistakes, as the difference between evaluating a four year player to a six-year player, is significant. For small-market teams, the focus would be back on player development and would also increase trading.
As the NFL has grown exponentially, the Bills, and a few other teams haven't kept up. It is clear that the Bills, and many other small market teams, can't operate efficiently in the NFL's current landscape. The league has done a remarkable job marketing inept teams to cities for years, but time is running out and fans are getting restless.
While the difference in revenue between the top earners and the bottom teams is significant, every team is now wealthy, stable and profitable. As the baseball has proved time and time again, paper tigers - usually the richest and most talented teams on paper—don't always win.
In any team sport, it takes more than talent to win. Good organizations know that, and great organizations operate looking for more than just the most talented players.
NFL free agency began in 1993, and the salary cap was implemented in 1994. Is it a coincidence, or just happenstance, that the Bills have continuously disintegrated as a franchise since?
Would more change than just the 2010 changes help? Of course. Implementing a rookie pay scale structure, re-establishing more rounds in the draft, and further limiting teams from stashing a player on injured reserve or a practice squad would all be great strides toward generating the parity it so sorely lacks.
Each should be items to focus on when Goodell and Smith begin to negotiate a new agreement.
Are the the labor changes a legitimate threat to league stability or do they open the door to a potential new era for a league quietly hiding its scars?
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