Many owners think their current deal with the NFLPA was shoved down their throats in 2006, and it looks like some of them want to regurgitate it and start over.
But they're not going to be able to get that bad taste out of their mouths—because the union won't give them a mint.
It looks like NFL owners and the players' union are going to be sitting down again later this year to hammer out a new collective-bargaining agreement. Or perhaps, just to hammer at each other.
The CBA is set to expire after the 2012 season, but the union or the owners may end the deal in November of this year. If it is terminated early, 2010 would be the final season of the deal and would have no salary cap. That would create a league of haves and have-nots similar to the system that has made major-league baseball so unbalanced.
NFL owners don't want that, but they also don't want to continue to pay 60 percent of their revenues to the players without some other concessions.
It's not just the small-market teams that have issues with it; big-money franchises like the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos are unhappy with it, too, because of the revenue-sharing portion of the deal that requires the top 15 teams to share the most money.
"I don't think it is any secret a number of our owners are concerned with many aspects of the current labor deal," commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters during his state-of-the-league address at the Super Bowl last weekend. "That's something we need to improve, we need to address, and we will do that, directly with the union."
But the owners had better not ask for any of that 60 percent back, union leader Gene Upshaw warned last week. Upshaw is adamant that the players will not surrender their share of the league's gross proceeds, and he already is posturing for a players strike if the owners ask the union to give back some of that money.
He also has said that if the salary cap ever goes away it will not return, although that is just tough-talking rhetoric to try to keep the owners in line.
Upshaw got his way last time because the owners were disorganized, couldn't agree on how to share revenue and were scared to go to an uncapped season. If they don't come up with a better plan this time, Upshaw will get them again.
"It's very clear to us from what we see in the tea leaves the owners will terminate the deal in November," Upshaw told reporters. "I have prepared the players for the worst."
He is willing to talk, but he said, "Whatever we agree to will be fair to the players. We will not agree to a rollback. They are not hockey players, and they are not hockey owners. We're getting 60 percent of the revenue. When all is said and done, we're not giving any of it back. I don't want the owners to believe there is a Santa Claus. There is not one."
Goodell thinks things will work out, as they have since the players sued to get free agency in the early 1990s.
"I believe we will be able to come to a resolution that is good for the game, good for the players, good for the owners and good for our fans, most of all," he said. "I think it is important for our fans to understand that the labor agreement is critically important to our business and that our business has changed over the last several years."
Goodell's biggest concern seems to be the fact that the players are taking such a big chunk of revenue that teams have little left for other expenses related to building, improving and operating stadiums.
"These are all additional costs that we didn't have just several years ago," he said, "and I think they need to be recognized in this labor agreement, and the union has done that. We think there is probably going to have to be some additional consideration in how they do that, but that is the give and take of negotiation."
One other topic that probably will be addressed is the overpayment of rookies. The top player in the draft now gets around $30 million guaranteed, and there is growing sentiment to stop the escalation of that unearned payday, which can end up draining a team's cash resources and leaving it unable to pay veteran players.
Goodell said he has talked with Upshaw about changing the rookie pool to leave more money for veterans.
"What we're trying to do is make sure that the money that is allocated to the salary cap goes to the players that have earned that, that have done it over a period of time," Goodell said. "So I think we want to talk about the impact of the rookie pool, what it should be, how it should provide opportunities for players that come into the league and be paid appropriately and be paid fairly, but also make sure that money goes to the players that really have performed on an incredible level. I think that's something that we'll continue to engage in with the Players Association."
Goodell knows Upshaw and the players will want concessions for any potential changes.
"They have, I'm sure, other issues they want us to address," the commissioner said. "We will do that, ... and I hope we'll come to a successful conclusion on that because it's good for the game."
Upshaw agrees the sides will come to an agreement; he just doesn't plan to give any money back.
"At the end of the day, there will be a deal," he said. "I think they have to learn to survive on their 40 percent."