NFL Lockout: Simple CBA proposal brings owners, players close to deal

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NFL Lockout: Simple CBA proposal brings owners, players close to deal
Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images
A dumbed-down CBA proposal means the near-end of the NFL lockout.

The reaction to the NFL's soon-to-be-signed collective bargaining agreement might be confusion, maybe for how confusing it isn't.

Unlike revisions past, this proposed labor deal is as vanilla as the paper it's printed on. Its beauty is its simplicity.

Owners and players dumbed this thing down for the better. The proposed revenue division is in overall terms--none of that $1 billion off the top malarkey from 2006. If it passes, a near assumption after this latest bout of negotiating cordiality, players will net 48 percent of "all revenue," the operative term for every dollar of operating income, and never less than 46.5 percent, a pretty reassuring profit floor.

That works for owners, who get the expense credits they went after. With benefits and pensions expected to swell in coming years, retirees will sleep easy too.

If that's not a glass of warm milk for players, the new, painstakingly simple salary cap rules should be. This CBA would shave the fluff (incentives and escalators) from contracts, at least as they pertain to how much teams can, and have to, spend. Instead of navigating and calculating and tiptoeing around tricky cap figures, contractual dead weight that keeps more money out of more players' hands, teams have straightforward orders: spend, in cash, near 100 percent of the salary cap.

Period. Simple as that.

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The framework for a rookie wage scale is even laid, uncomplicating later discussions. Sides say they'll hammer out specifics later. So long as the deal's done, why rush, right?

The 18-game schedule is still an option, but it's not the crux of the deal—not anymore, after somebody figured out that stretching the calendar and straining bodies weren't necessary for generating extra revenue. The solution? Broadcast, not play, more games, a fix 16 weeks of Thursday night football offers. If you're hurting for reasons projected earnings top $18 billion by 2016, there's an answer and an Advil for you.

More than anything, talks needed efficiency. This dragged on too long. Quick and painless and cutting through this thing surgically.  

Deadlines harped down as we inched toward various July deadlines insiders guesstimated would be lines of demarcation before "missed games" territory. Owners couldn't afford that, not after the $4 billion security blanket was yanked off them by the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. Sides even showed initiative back in March and bridged a $400-plus million chasm in days before the CBA expiration date(s).

Efficiency means simple. Plugging the two together, owners and players needed simple.

For one, a straightforward proposal had to have helped players understand better. There was a lot of savvy stuffed into those suits, between Kevin Mawae, Mike Vrabel and others—but no law school degrees. It's not string theory, but contract law is dense stuff.

The same went for fans, actively ignorant through much of this. The average enthusiast doesn't have the free time or computing power to wrap their head around the nuances of the deal's jargon, percentages for offers and counteroffers (and for which pool of money) and the rest of its eye-crossing craziness.

Modeling after the old deal meant working with a process that shaved $1 billion for the owners before divvying the rest, apparently a raw deal for owners, who wanted another $1 billion plucked for stadium renovations and other expenses. It also meant conjuring a collective "Huh?" from fans.

That's for the few who bothered. Most—who view sports as a release, not a brain teaser—didn't. Fans didn't care, so they didn't know details and ticks and bargaining power. Without an understanding came bloodshot eyes and bubbling mouths.

That animosity couldn't have boded well for advertising contracts, as uncertain and for as long as the lockout itself was, with murmurs about money and programming swinging toward college football Sundays. Throw that onto the hypothetical mound of cash set ablaze if the lockout lasted.

So for an immeasurable number of reasons, owners and players needed a deal, stat, given waning interest and the money at stake. Expected losses could've hit $1 billion by the start of the regular season, with an estimated 115,000 job losses, according to a union study.

So they stripped this thing down and glossed over difficulties, like valuating sides' earnings—the cypher to how much players are worth, and how much owners really need to cover costs—when neither would open its books. (Kind of hard to crunch numbers without numbers.)

This progress wouldn't have been possible without limiting the moving parts—in other words, people; in another still, egos—to the minimum and most important. Keeping barbs out of the media, pariah owners out of secret meetings and lawyers out of "engage mode" was huge.

We're (almost) there. Even with a few malcontents—cash-strapped Buffalo and Cincinnati won't warm to a deal that challenges their solvency—this thing is all but done.

Then begins football and free agency, shaping up to be the circus you want to attend. With another stupidly simple clause that frees four-year veterans (instead of six) for the open market, there could be as many as 150 free agents in a smorgasbord of talent and 32 clubs anxious to fill roster spots.

(For those who didn't take Football Chem 101, that's the formula for an explosive few weeks of excitement—maybe the most ever.)

But that's overstating this thing's complexity, as intricate as a soup bowl.

This thing is over, now that it's not overdone.

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