The NFL should have learned a lesson from the most recent NHL lockout, and the multiple lockouts other major sports have been hit with. If and when a league halts play due to money grubbing...what does that say to the average fan?
"We're not making enough money. Profits are only up 5 percent this year. We need to make x millions more, lets fight the players in negotiations, and push for more dollars to stay in our bank accounts. If they won't bend, we'll shut down for the next season so we get our way."
Whether that's the thought process of owners during a lockout or not, it's irrelevant. The "court of public opinion" way that the sports loving public tends to view lockouts is not very open-minded.
As a fan, if a league I watch frequently stops playing because of dollar disputes, it says to me that money is bigger than the game.
The NFL, and any other professional sports league is indeed a business, but a special type.
I doubt many people would stop buying Barbies if Mattel refused to give employees a certain benefits package, and stoppage of the product occurred temporarily, but then resumed a year or two later.
Sports though, are different.
People still remember the baseball strike, one which led to the cancellation of the season and the World Series. The World freakin' Series, people.
Needless to say, baseball fans and purists alike stopped running through the turnstiles all across the country, and baseball was left with a black eye.
Steroids saved the sport, but still, the strike and the lockout left many fans disgruntled with the players and owners.
The NFL is approaching a crossroads. Many veterans have spoken out about the need for a rookie player contract cap, and it is reasonable to push for one.
Lets consider a few things.
Rookies making more than Pro Bowl-established veteran players is ridiculous.
No wonder the veterans are barking up the tree of the NFL about the issue. When a top pick is drafted No. 1 overall, and gets about $50 million for his contract (usually about $20 million-$25 million bonus guaranteed) it sends the wrong message.
That hypothetical player will receive $25 million up front and hasn't played a down in the NFL yet. It sends the message of reward before work.
Sure, the players coming out of college worked their tails off to get to the NFL, but it is not the same as handing an established NFL vet that same $25 million-$50 million. They have probably 4-5 or more years of great play, while rookies have yet to step on a football field.
It's one of the few things that bothers me about the NFL.
One of the other things that bothers me, is the potential of an uncapped year or more in the NFL.
It would destroy the level playing field that the NFL generates parity from. How else could little Green Bay compete with New England, New York, Dallas, Detroit, Washington, etc.?
An uncapped season would be horrible for the NFL as a whole.
The NFL would crown Dallas, New England, and Washington nearly every year, because their owners have the money to throw at Free Agents and they would be almost unstoppable.
Not to look into a crystal ball, but it isn't like one needs one to know an uncapped season or, more than one, would be devastating.
However, there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel that is the question of the outcome of player vs. owner CBA negotiations.
The MLB and NBA's cap systems, if they were to mix, would be perfect.
The MLB gives teams compensation for the loss of free agents who leave for another team. The NBA locks rookie salaries.
If the NFL could reach a "happy medium" of the two, that would benefit both parties.
NFL franchises locking themselves down to a quarterback for guaranteed big contracts who swing and miss (see Leaf, Ryan) kill their ability to manage the cap, unless they have a master of a general manager who can navigate the rocky financial waters that lie ahead.
Caps on rookie contracts prevent overspending by teams, promote giving money to veterans who have proven their ability on the field, and would save franchises money in the short and long term, almost immediately.
I would propose a cap change of this type:
For rookies, cap first-round picks with a salary to reach no higher than $20 million over no more than four years.
This would allow for financial recovery for teams who pick poorly so that they do not slump for a decade with an overpaid, under-skilled player, and would also set up players to get more money in the long run.
For example, a rookie in 2012: (the earliest anything like this could go into effect)
No. 1 overall pick, quarterback. Guaranteed contract capped at $20 million, four years.
Let's say this player has great success, and earns a considerable raise at the end of his contract.
The player would no longer have a rookie cap, having played out said contract, so they could sign for as much as any team is willing to offer them.
For hypothetical purposes, and to move this article to my next point (compensation for free agents) lets say they leave their drafted team, enter free agency, and get a nice raise.
What would happen to the team which drafted the player? Should they have to go through a dry patch with spotty play just because their market was too small, or another team offered more? No.
In the MLB's free agency, if a player leaves his team, and is signed by another team, depending on their positional rank, the team the player left is given a compensatory draft pick, often in the first three rounds.
The NFL could apply a similar tactic.
Lets get back to our hypothetical quarterback who's now raking in big bucks from a top team. He was obviously a top target free agent, which would indicate that replacing him will be a task not easily done.
The NFL could do what the MLB does, and compensate the teams that free agents leave with additional draft picks in certain rounds.
If the player is a top three player according to the signings of his position in free agency, (if 10 quarterbacks are signed to teams and he's the No. 2 most paid or signed No. 2) give his previous team a pick to compensate the loss so that they can fill his void on the team accordingly.
Or, what the NFL could do is simply assign a team's draft pick to a free agent signing. A player like Tom Brady leaving New England for example, would demand at least a first-round compensation in this system, given his rank at his position, and his importance to his team.
If the NFL could implement this type of compensation and rookie contract caps in a new collective bargaining agreement with the players, it would be a great addition to an already sturdy product, on and off the field. The NFL and its players would be better for it.
I do not believe there will be a strike or an uncapped season in the near future, as both parties should understand the importance of keeping the sport favorable in the eyes of fans and advertisers, and that they realize the damage it would do to the league.
However, there is a chance of a CBA not being reached, and while the lockout is a possibility, I think there would be a better chance of an uncapped season.
In the end, the NFL has to decide, would it like to suffer the fall the NHL has taken, or would it like to concretely establish its dominance over the long term with a reasonable agreement between both parties and secure the stability of the sport?
I think the correct choice is the obvious one. Do the right thing, NFL. Reach an agreement in the near future to prevent a messy battle of player vs. owner.
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