Have We Been Bamboozled By the NFL and A New CBA Is Closer Then We Think

Bryan FlynnAnalyst IFebruary 24, 2010

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 07:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell watches teams warm up prior to the start of Super Bowl XLIV between the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints on February 7, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Could it be that we are being bamboozled by the NFL? As if the combine, free agency, and the draft did not keep our attention long enough.

Is the threat of an uncapped year in 2010 in the NFL nothing more than just a way to keep the league on the lips of every fan?  Could the actuality of a lockout by the owners in 2011 be a myth just like the idea of “free healthcare”?

Why would anyone think that all the posturing and bellowing from the NFL Players Association led by DeMaurice Smith and the owners be anything less? Especially after the NFLPA sent out a mass memo to the players and their agents yesterday, Feb. 24, saying an uncapped year looks inevitable.

The owners and the NFLPA have until March 5th to reach a new collective bargaining agreement or the 2010 season will be uncapped and a lockout is possible for 2011. The NFLPA insists that a deal is miles away but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell believes a new deal will be in place before the new deal expires.

While both sides are sticking to their particular rhetoric, could it be the last two days saw the owners tip their hand over the last two days? With a deal on the table that would keep the current CBA in place and talks set to resume Thursday, Feb. 26 at the NFL Combine, is a labor deal closer than the NFL would have us think?

First, if the NFL does have an uncapped year in 2010 it will be the first uncapped year since 1993. The sports landscape has changed a lot since that last uncapped year and while the economy is in a downturn, the NFL still could see richer teams outspend their poor counterparts.

If the richer NFL teams do spend more on free agents next season, the league might not ever be the same again. The competitive balance that the league has become known for could be lost forever.

Doomsday prophecies abound about America’s favorite sport and the result of an uncapped year in 2010 and a lockout in 2011. All this speculation could be for not if we read into the actions of the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Diego Chargers in back to back days.

Starting off the speculation with the Chargers, who on Monday cut the face of their franchise, LaDainian Tomlinson, after nine years with the team.  Tomlinson’s production had been declining dramatically since 2007.

San Diego would have owed Tomlinson three million dollars (more on the money involved later) if they had kept him on their roster, and owe Tomlinson a million dollars for cutting him. The million dollars is a guaranteed bonus if the Chargers cut him.

The second tip of the owners hand came from Philadelphia who released the second best known player on their roster behind Donovan McNabb. Brian Westbrook, who had been with the Eagles for eight years, helped Philadelphia become one of the best teams in the NFL.

By cutting Westbrook, the Eagles save 7.5 million next season. Due to injuries, Westbrook's production took a severe hit in the 2009 season.

Now there are some similarities between Tomlinson and Westbrook. Both are 30 year old running backs, and history shows that at that age their production is going to decline.

Also, both Tomlinson and Westbrook have been injury plagued the last few seasons. Another thing both players had in common was they both had what could be their worst season as professionals since they came into the league.

Both Tomlinson and Westbrook were cut by teams that are more passing orientated than running orientated. Plus both Tomlinson and Westbrook have younger understudies behind them waiting to be the No. 1 guy.

Here is how the owners have tipped their hand that a new CBA is closer than we think. Releasing Tomlinson and Westbrook was a standard football move.

Think about this in a year that could be uncapped, the three million the Chargers would have owed Tomlinson could amount to a drop in the bucket. While Tomlinson’s production is down, there is no way San Diego could draft a running back or through free agency bring in a talent equal to L.T.

The price is right to keep Tomlinson for the 2010 season if it will truly be an uncapped year. Also it is not like Tomlinson is washed up and should retire, he has some productivity left in him.

Tomlinson sells tickets and is a fan favorite, so in a year with no salary cap why not keep him, and if there is going to be no football in 2011 cut him then. The case of Westbrook is not quite as clear cut.

The Eagles would have owed Westbrook 7.5 million this season if they had not cut him. Again for a talent like Westbrook in an uncapped year, this price tag could be a steal.

There is a chance, however, after having a couple of concussions this season that Westbrook might not even return to the game. If he does, one would have to think that the Eagles landing a talent like Westbrook in the draft or through free agency is slim to none.

Both the Eagles and the Chargers look like they could be contenders again in 2010. So if there is going to be no salary cap in 2010 and no football in 2011, why would you cut a player who if healthy could get you to what could be the last Super Bowl in the next two years?

That is because the owners and the NFLPA are closer to deal then we think and the owners are getting ready for business as usual. By cutting Westbrook and Tomlinson it shows that the normal football cap moves are still going on like a normal year.

But listening to the talk, this is not a normal year. It is armageddon and the end of pro football as we know it.

The uncapped year and the chance of no football in 2011 should give owners pause before cutting talents like Westbrook and Tomlinson. Even if they are not the players they once were, they are still talented enough to help you win a championship.

There is no question that if other big named players in the downside of their careers are cut before the March 5th deadline that a new CBA is nearly a done deal or that 2010 will be played with the old CBA extended for 2010 until a new deal is completed.

One lasting thought to keep in your mind. If 2010 is an uncapped year and there is no pro football in 2011, what owner, general manager, and coach would not want the last image for the next two years be of them holding up the Lombardi Trophy.

Keeping players like Westbrook and Tomlinson make it easier to achieve that image. Cutting Westbrook and Tomlinson shows that a new CBA is on the way and the owners are sticking to business as usual. But then again, I could be reading more into these two moves then what they really are.