Pending NFL Labor Crisis: Worse Than Spygate?

Jon Meerdink@@JonMeerdinkCorrespondent IMay 16, 2008

According to ESPN and NFL rumor site ProFootballTalk.com, NFL owners could choose to end the current Collective Bargaining Agreement in a vote at the annual owners' meeting next Tuesday, which would result in an entirely uncapped year in 2010.

The current CBA, which is set to run through the 2012 season, includes a provision that would allow NFL owners to terminate the final two years of the deal and creating all sorts of salary headaches for teams in the next two years.

Three-quarters (24 of 32 owners) of the owners must vote in favor of continuing the labor agreement for the deal to run to its entirety. In other words, only nine owners must vote against the CBA for it to be terminated early. According to the report offered by Chris Mortensen of ESPN, this seems to be pretty likely.

Why is this a big deal? There are several reasons.

First of all, ending the deal early would effect how teams negotiate with players for the next two years in an enormous way. Teams could choose to operate under the assumption that the 2010 season will be uncapped and spend their money accordingly, pushing all money that would count against the cap to that year and leaving themselves room to lock up players now, knowing that they won't worry about having the room down the road.

The other side of this argument rests with the teams that could choose to spend as if the 2010 season will be capped. These teams would likely not be able to offer as lucrative of long-term contracts, since they would assume that they would have to account for big time cap numbers in the long term. They would also operate under the disadvantage of not knowing exactly what the cap would be if 2010 was, in fact, a capped season, which would also affect their spending choices.

Related to this is the issue of big markets versus small markets. As it stands, the current labor agreement balances out, to a certain extent, the differences between teams like the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers. With the revenue sharing provisions of the current agreement, big market teams like the Giants essentially have the same amount of money to work with as small market teams like the Packers.

If an uncapped year would occur, revenue sharing would effectively be thrown out the window. Teams with access to millions of fans in their own backyards would suddenly be able to keep all the revenues they gained from their markets, including all advertising dollars and any other money that would otherwise have been split up among the 32 teams.

The final major issue is the possibility of a complete work stoppage. While a stoppage likely would not occur until 2011, such a stoppage could potentially be disastrous. The last NFL work stoppage was in 1987, which led to three games during that season being played with replacement players. Although this stoppage and the surrounding events eventually led to the implementation of the salary cap in 1993, the stoppage could potentially have been devastating to what was still a relatively young league.

Although there is little or no threat of the NFL disappearing entirely, any sort of work stoppage could be potentially devastating in the "what have you done for me lately" world of professional sports today. See, for example, the NBA, whose lockout in 1999 shook up the league so much that it really hasn't recovered until this year.

While the potential repercussions of next Tuesday's vote are a couple of years away, the issue is still very relevant today. The course of the league over the next decade could be determined before our very eyes.


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