NFL Lockout: Bargaining Chips Not Being Played by the Owners or Players

Brian Tuohy@@thefixisintuohyCorrespondent IApril 6, 2011

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 21: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addresses the media during the NFL Annual Meetings at the Roosevelt Hotel on March 21, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Despite a NFL owners imposed lockout in effect since March 12 the league is conducting it's annual owners meeting in New Orleans(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

As we are all more than aware, the NFL is currently in a “work stoppage.” It’s an odd term to use considering there’s no real work for players, coaches, referees or owners until August when preseason games are scheduled to begin. Nothing has been lost as of yet.

But let’s play along and say the NFL is shut down at the moment, though what that really means is debatable.

No matter how this so-called lockout is resolved, at the end of it all owners are still going to be sharing a $9-10 billion pie with the players. What will change when all is said and done is simply a small redistribution of that wealth (and the percentage change in the amounts split between the two factions will ultimately be minimal).

Perhaps the players will have to play two more regular season games to get their cut, but perhaps not. Perhaps the rookie wage scale will change, but perhaps not. Perhaps the owners will take more off the top to cover “operating expenses,” but perhaps not.

All fans know is that (A) they are not going to stop hearing about this nonsense until it’s resolved and (B) fans will not be getting a different or improved product when NFL games resume.

NFL football will still be NFL football and the machinations of the league will remain fully in place.

But there are options out there—bargaining chips, if you will—that both sides could play to bring this whole ordeal to a very rapid conclusion. They won’t use them (and that should tell you something about how close knit both sides really are), but if they did use these suggestions below, consider what the future of NFL football may look like.

The Owners

If the owners were wise—and they’re not—they would give the players everything they ask for. They are the attraction and they are what fans pay to watch.

However, the owners should hold firm on one thing: rookie pay scale cuts. It’s foolish for them to consistently pay over-hyped rookies guaranteed money prior to them ever playing a down of professional football. That money should be paid to the proven players busting their humps in the trenches each and every week.

When one considers that the league minimum is $295,000 (for a player on an active roster for at least three games in a season) and the average base salary is nearly $1 million a year, signing an unproven rookie to a contract worth over $30 million is ridiculous.

In redistributing this money to tenured players, a caveat should go along with it. Owners should tell the players this: we will no longer cover for you.

There should be a zero tolerance policy in the NFL for criminal behavior.

Player arrested for a weapons violation? Out of the league. Assault and battery, especially of a woman? Finished. DUI or drug arrest? Done. No second chances. No half-hearted public apologies and sob stories traded for a lucrative contract.

Crime = expulsion. Plain and simple.

There is no doubt teams currently cover up these offenses on their players’ behalf. They do so to save the franchise embarrassment, but also to protect the valuable investment the owners have in their players. Yet if a zero tolerance policy were instituted, with contacts becoming null and void when such offenses were committed, I guarantee you would see NFL players straighten up and do so quickly.

The NFL would no longer have the constant P.R. problems season after season, and the need for a commissioner (or at least one who continually flip-flops on punishments for these guilty athletes) would basically cease.

But the players would never agree to this, nor will they agree to the HGH testing which the NFL supposedly wants to impose upon the end of this labor dispute. Why? Because the decertified players’ union always has protected these miscreant athletes whenever and wherever they run afoul of the league or the law. Instead of rooting out the bad apples—and the NFL is loaded with them—they grant them chance after chance to “rehabilitate.”

I say, do this no more.

The league would instantly be more fan-friendly, and kids would have players much more worthy of respect than they do now.

The Players

No sportswriter seems willing to state the obvious: while the owners own the league, it’s the players fans pay to see. If the players leave the NFL, the fans will follow them.

If the players would be bold enough, they should simply begin their own league.

I’m sure there are 20 or more Donald Trumps out there (and the Donald himself once owned the New Jersey Generals in the USFL) who would be willing to help create a new NFL fully stocked and loaded with today’s best professional football players.

Fans—even fans of the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers—would desert the NFL for this new league in droves if all the players they knew and loved (and in some cases, despised) populated it.

Would you rather watch the Green Bay Packers field a team filled with a bunch of no-names or tune in to see the Madison Cheesemakers led by Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews? I can tell you right now where fans would be watching football on Sunday, and it ain’t in Green Bay.

And here’s where the new players’ league could make the most radical change: play for money.

If fans want to see hard-nose, no-holds-barred football, structure the league in the following fashion:

Every player earns the same base salary per game. Quarterback. Lineman. Safety. Kicker. Every. Player.

Then, after operating expenses are paid, take whatever the earnings are for each game and give 70 percent to the winning team, 20 percent to the losing team, and put the remaining 10 percent into a pool to be paid out for the playoffs and championship.

More wins mean more money. Win as a team, lose as a team. Every player is accountable, and accountable to each other.

It may sound a bit like communism, but imagine what these games would look like. Today’s NFL players do not have incentive contracts based upon regular season wins and losses (though they do get playoff bonuses). Some players may have incentive clauses in their contracts to pay them more if certain statistic-related milestones are achieved (1,000 yards rushing or receiving, 10 QB sacks, etc.), but do any of these really mean more wins for a franchise? No.

While fantasy football owners may love a quarterback who throws for 4,000 yards in a season, a true fan of a team cares not for the stats but the results. This is what fandom is supposed to be about: wins, losses, and championships.

And if players can make more playing on a winning team that they each have a stake in as opposed to earning the same money whether their team goes 12-4 or 4-12, you will see a new level of effort on the gridiron each and every Sunday. No game becomes meaningless when a paycheck is on the line.

Yes, the defunct XFL had a similar sort of pay scale. But that league didn’t fold due to how it paid its athletes, nor did it have the caliber of athletes this version of the NFL would.

And that’s what makes the NFL what it is: the players. They are their own best bargaining chip. Without threatening to take themselves elsewhere, the players are essentially admitting that the owners own them.

If that’s the case, then both sides will squabble over a few million dollars here and there while irking their fans to no end. And when the dust settles, NFL football will remain as it is—which is good for some, but far from the product it could be.

It’s the fans that need to make this work stoppage work for them. Instead, they will remain passive and allow themselves to be suckered yet again by a league that cares not for them beyond their pocketbooks.

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