NFL Lockout: The Owners Have Only Themselves to Blame for This Mess

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NFL Lockout: The Owners Have Only Themselves to Blame for This Mess
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Commissioner Roger Goodell and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones

The NFL is now officially under lockdown, and the owners have only themselves to blame.

If they hadn’t let Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw pressure them into accepting an imbalanced deal in 2006, they wouldn’t be in the situation where they are trying everything they can to get some of that money back from the players.

They quickly realized they had become just like baseball owners, who gave up financial control of their game 35 years ago and have been paying for it ever since in the form of an unbalanced league with limited competition. NFL owners want to take back control of their game, and it’s hard to blame them.

But they gave the players the lion’s share, and getting even some of it back is proving to be a monumental battle. It is no surprise that the players seemingly have little interest in negotiating. Why would they want to give up any of the money they finagled in 2006?

According to that deal, the owners pull $1 billion off the top of league revenue and split the rest with the players 40-60. In 2009, the sides split the $9 billion in revenue according to that formula, with the players receiving $4.8 billion and the owners getting $4.2 billion.

The owners wanted an extra $1 billion off the top, before the split, and they reportedly dropped that request all the way down to $325 million by Friday while trying to offer the players other concessions in return.

The players reportedly were willing to give the owners an extra $140 million, but they said they would not give up more until the owners proved they really need the money, asking for 10 years of complete financial disclosure.

Of course, they had to know the league would not go for that. What private corporation ever shares all of its financials with its employees?

Instead of offering those financial records, the owners tried to offer the players a bunch of other things, including giving in on the union’s suggested rookie wage scale, giving players more time off during the year, increasing benefits for retired players and agreeing to third-party arbitration for drug suspensions.

The players apparently didn’t think any of that was enough to give up an extra $325 million per year to the owners. That seems a little odd, considering the players at one point reportedly had offered a 50-50 split of all revenue ($4.5 billion each), and the owners’ last offer would have given the players a slight edge, $4.6 billion to the owners’ $4.4 billion.

However, union boss DeMaurice Smith says the league was asking for much more than that, steadily climbing back up to the original $1 billion pre-split cut over four years.

Both sides surely are coloring their proposals with their own rosy shade, which partly explains why they can’t even agree on what each other is offering. And it has become clear that the players didn't want to take the time to look at the owners' proposal Friday it would have required extending bargaining again.

In addition to disagreeing on what the final financial proposals were, the sides offered different views on things like the rookie wage scale, workout rules and injury compensation.

**The league said it was willing to go with the union’s rookie proposal of four-year deals, allocating savings on first-round contracts to veterans and player benefits.

The union didn’t dispute that but did say the NFL “sought to limit rookie compensation … into players’ fourth and fifth years.”

**The league said it offered “to promote player health and safety by reducing the offseason program by five weeks, reducing OTAs from 14 to 10, and limiting on-field practice time and contact; limiting full-contact practices in the preseason and regular season; and increasing number of days off for players.”

The union either didn’t see that offer or doesn’t think that was enough, saying the NFL “refused to meet the players on significant changes to in-season, off-season or pre-season health and safety rules.”

**The league said it offered “a guarantee of up to $1 million of a player’s salary for the contract year after his injury the first time that the clubs have offered a standard multi-year injury guarantee.”

The union, meanwhile, said the league “wanted cutbacks in payer workers’ compensation benefits for injured players.” Again, this might have changed in the owners' last-minute offer and the union might not have been aware of it.

The owners complain that the players had no intention of bargaining in good faith and always intended to take it to court, where the players assume longtime NFL labor Judge David Doty will give them a better deal than they could get in mediated negotiations. Well, at this point, Doty is not going to be the judge in this case.

It’s hard to blame the players for holding their ground. If you had a favorable deal, you wouldn’t want to renegotiate it either.

So they dissolved the union and sued the NFL for antitrust violations. The league then locked out the players, and now we all wait until April 6 to see whether the lockout is deemed an antitrust violation and the owners are forced to conduct business as usual while the CBA is ironed out in court.

If the owners hadn’t given up so much control of their league in 2006, they wouldn’t be in this position. They have only themselves to blame.

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