NFL Labor News: Why the Latest Negotiation Extension Won't Result in Agreement
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sure looks tired, doesn't he?
In the last hours before the NFL's collective bargaining agreement was set to expire, and with no accord in sight, the league's owners and the players association decided on a 24-hour negotiation extension into Friday.
Then, on Friday, they extended the CBA expiration by a week so that the two sides could re-prioritize their respective demands before resuming negotiations in front of a federal mediator on Monday.
While the mere fact that the two sides keep extending the deal is cause for optimism, there is still significant distance between what each side demands. The leverage has vacillated from one side to other and is no small advantage at the bargaining table.
Both sides are apparently working hard to get a new CBA signed, but the staunch positioning of each side makes this thing unlikely at this point. Here are five reasons why, barring another extension, the NFL and its players union will not strike an agreement anytime soon.
Each Side Wants What the Other Isn't Willing to Compromise On
Instead of flying to their teams' training facilities in the offseason for a random weekend of mandatory workouts, NFL players would rather enjoy their time off vacationing and playing other sports, like New York Jets star corner Darrelle Revis is doing here.
One of the utmost demands of the players union is fewer mandated offseason workout days. The players get beat up so much during the season that the last thing they want to do during their time away is have to think about the game, much less play it.
Further, because of that beating they take and the likely odds of career-ending injury, the players want contracts to become guaranteed. As of now, if a player gets hurt and is unable to perform, his contract, at least in part, is non-guaranteed, which means the team can cut him without paying what they pledged to pay him.
This is something that team owners, who write the checks for those contracts, have not budged on. When you think about it from their side, it makes plenty of sense: Players are at huge risk on the field, and the owners are paying very high salaries. If a player gets hurt and can't play, the owner is paying him money to not play.
The owners are vilified in the media, which creates a player-as-victim narrative over contracts, but the non-guaranteed contract is a business decision that the owners smartly maneuvered in the past.
These are just a few of the several issues that one side or the other has been unwilling to compromise on. The compromises will have to start coming in if the two sides want to continue their partnership and have a season in 2011.
Leverage Keeps Shifting
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Up until early last week, the NFL owners had all the leverage in the labor dispute. Most owners have franchises that are worth enough to sustain the lost revenue from an absence of football games, and the longer the lockout dragged on, the more desperate the players would become for a paycheck.
The players, who are paid the entirety of their salaries during the 17-week regular season, would really feel the pain once they missed that first paycheck in September, the logic went.
Once the reality of missing paychecks came into view, the players would crumble at the demands of the owners, a deal would get done and the players would resume their posts on the field.
Ah, not so fast.
The players union won a giant decision when a ruling came down regarding the $4 billion in broadcast revenue due from Fox, CBS and ESPN to the NFL. The owners were planning on getting their hands on that money, dividing it up and running their franchises with it until the games started again.
The players stole away all the leverage when a federal ruling deemed that money untouchable by the league as long as disagreement reigns on the labor front. The money was put into escrow, essentially away from the owners' use.
The decision will certainly be appealed by the NFL and has become the preeminent driving factor of negotiations. No longer are the two sides talking about the issues of disagreement, but which side the $4 billion decision will favor when finalized.
This has become the biggest leverage chip in the fight and could single-handedly determine the course of the negotiations and the final details of the collective bargaining agreement.
As long as the leverage keeps shifting, no progress can truly be made. With a shift in tide possible at any minute, how can either side establish any ground on their respective platforms?
Owner Greed Means Player Pain
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As long as football is a physical game and James Harrison is nearly killing other players, adding more games to the NFL regular season is probably a horrible idea.
Yet this is exactly what the owners want to do.
More games mean more money for owners, who regard their teams as businesses and are chiefly concerned with making profit.
For players, more games mean more chances to get seriously injured, or worse. The nature of the NFL is such that every time a player steps on the field, he is one play away from being out of a job and, consequently, an income.
This is why guaranteed contracts are so vital to the players' cause. If they're going to be run out there like machines in a factory every Sunday, they need to be assured that they won't be left out in the cold as soon as they're unusable.
There has been a ton of research recently on the health effects of playing in the NFL. Longitudinal studies now have enough data to show just how crippling a career can be to the health of a former player. With concussions and numerous other injuries to knees, hips, shoulders and more, the body is irreversibly damaged, leaving players to live with unspeakable pain for the rest of their lives.
Perception and reality do not favor the NFL schedule expansion here, so look for great interdependence between guaranteed contracts and the 18-game schedule when this all gets sorted out.
The Stakes Are Too High
To put it simply, there is just too much money in a $9 billion enterprise to concede too much.
Yes, this can be argued from the other side by saying that there is too much money on the line to not come to an agreement.
However, since the CBA's ramifications ripple several years into the future, the two sides are going to be very, very careful with what they agree to, even while they both stand to lose money currently.
Let's say the players or owners compromise on the revenue breakdown percentage now when the league is worth $9 billion a year. How will they feel in four years when the league is generating $12-15 billion and they agreed to a fixed percentage when it was only worth $9 billion?
Let's say the players agree to cap rookie salaries now. What happens when high draft picks don't pan out and are out of the league within three years and need to find a job?
What if the players agree to an 18-game schedule now and retired players in a few years start dying from injuries sustained during their careers? This would be an image nightmare for the NFL as a whole, but the owners could ultimately pin it on the players union, citing their agreement to the expanded schedule in the labor dispute of 2011.
The stakes are too high to sacrifice a season's worth of profit. However, the stakes are even higher for either side to cave in negotiations.
There's Still Too Much Time
Negotiations are hotter than they've ever been right now, but if a deal doesn't get done in the coming week or few, just wait until the summer.
The waning clock is what will galvanize both sides. The season starts in September, and they're negotiating in March.
Why would either side be motivated to strike a deal with so much time between now and the scheduled start of the season?
There's no urgency in March, because teams aren't making money and players are living off their fat game checks.
Why would either side make a deal that they might regret later when delaying a deal doesn't disadvantage them at all?
There's no logic to ratifying a new CBA at 11 AM (March), but talks and heart rates will rise at 11 p.m. (July/August).
Predicting a Winner from the Current Situation
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Right now, the players hold more leverage than the owners. Essentially, the players are holding $4 billion in TV revenue and are dangling it just out of the owners' collective reach while they salivate.
The money decision is under appeal, and the result of that appeal will dictate the rest of the negotiations and which side will ultimately get the best of the other.
As it stands, the players are in the catbird seat with nothing to lose. Collective bargaining agreement or not, they're not getting paid until kickoff weekend anyway, so why work it out now? While the talks are ongoing, the players have zero responsibility to their current teams in working out or attending mandatory team training.
The owners, without that $4 billion, need to find a way to make money. Remember, their franchises are businesses. That includes paying employees who have jobs and make a salary, facilities to finance and operations to manage.
With the looming threat of no on-field product and their TV money frozen, the owners have considerably more motivation to get a deal done sooner rather than later.
As of right now, the players, for once, stand to rake the owners over the coals in the negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement.
As negotiations take place this week, we will see what progress is made between the owners and the players union in the biggest labor dispute in sports' professional history.