The NFL wants you to be thinking about the upcoming Super Bowl.
But the bigger story is about the looming expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). You may not have heard much about this yet, but come March 3, I guarantee you will.
It is highly likely there will indeed be a lockout preventing the start of next season. The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and the NFL owners may be further apart in their current negotiations than at any other time in their history.
Representatives from both the NFLPA and the NFL have made statements indicating they believe the players got too much in the last CBA. While this is not surprising coming from the NFL, it does come as a shock when the players' union admits it.
In an interview with Sirius XM Radio, Kevin Mawae, the NFLPA president and retired eight-time Pro Bowl center said, "I think what really happened is in 2006, we got such a great deal. I mean the players got a good deal and the owners felt they got it handed to them, and it’s kind of a revenge factor, 'let’s get back what we felt like we lost,' and things like that."
NFL Executive VP, Jeff Pash, expressed his views on the 2006 CBA by saying, "We have said we don’t have anyone to blame but ourselves, but it is not an agreement that has worked out in a satisfactory way. Rather than kick the can down the road another four or five years, let’s figure out how we can get a system in place that will be positive for players and positive for clubs."
What that means folks, is the owners are not going to be giving any raises, nor are they going to keep the status quo.
The NFL is looking to reduce their employees' payroll, and we all know how well employees respond to pay cuts, especially when those employees are making millions.
This could be a very long and protracted work stoppage. Some of the issues the owners are adamant about are a rookie wage scale, an 18-game season and a maximum cost cap that provides 18 percent off the top of the NFL’s annual gross revenue.
This last item is a way for teams to ensure a specific amount of profitability before other costs.
The players have their own sticking points as well. The NFLPA wants clarification on the new player safety rules, as they are considered confusing and arbitrary. The players want the provision for health insurance extended from five to 10 years for retired players, as there is proof that medical issues can arise up to a decade after retirement.
Of course, with the owners looking to take back what was lost, this last point will be a tough sell for the players' union.
To make matters worse, both sides have not met at the negotiating table since before Thanksgiving. Instead of bargaining, both sides seem to be positioning themselves legally.
The NFLPA has filed a collusion claim against the NFL, while the NFL has used its political action committee (PAC) to give nearly $600,000 to candidates in last November’s elections. To counter the NFL’s PAC money, the NFLPA has organized trips to Capitol Hill to speak with representatives of Congress directly.
NFLPA Union Spokesman George Atallah said, "We don't have a PAC, and we don't need a PAC. Our PAC is our players. The same way we try to directly engage with fans, we're trying to engage with members of Congress."
The NFL’s position on involving Congress was expressed by their chief lobbyist, Jeff Miller, who said, "We think a collective bargaining agreement will be settled at the bargaining table, not in the halls of Congress or in a hearing."
But the point that both parties are in Washington and not at the bargaining table cannot be overemphasized.
In a war of words, Miller went on to say, "Our approach is different from the players' association, but we have to make sure that our voice is heard."
While Atallah added, "The league can say what it wants, but they've been up here (on Capitol Hill) for years, spent millions in lobbying and PAC money. (This) is no different than any other employee-employer relationship. In the same way that Microsoft, IBM and Apple are here, the NFL is here."
Both sides are not wrong in their assessment that wooing Congress may be beneficial to their cause, as lawmakers have previously shown interest in the NFL by holding hearings involving gambling, drug-testing, the effects of concussions and retirement of players.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in trying to straddle the fence, has implored both sides to get back to the bargaining table.
"There is not enough communication. This is not going to get resolved through litigation. It will get resolved through negotiation," Goodell said.
As the two sides continue to primp and preen publicly, the prospect of a lockout in March looms like a bad habit you just can’t shake.
If a lockout does occur, we can count on a great many consequences, both short and long term. The foremost and most obvious is that almost 500 unrestricted free agent NFL players will be without a contract and a paycheck.
There will be an NFL rookie draft at the end of April, but those drafted cannot be signed. There will be no free agent signings without a CBA, so teams may rush to sign as many players as possible before the current CBA expires on March 3. Franchise tags, as well, will have to be applied before the current CBA expires, though if there is no stipulation in the new agreement, the franchise tag may become moot.
If the lockout continues long enough, there will be no training camp, no preseason and no regular season. Only management will continue to function. General managers, coaches and trainers may continue to work, as they are not part of the NFLPA.
But without the players, what would be the point?
Nothing will progress in the NFL until a new CBA is agreed upon.
So with all of that information, what are the most likely scenarios?
In the best case, the players buckle immediately to all the owners' demands. That is as likely as a cop passing up free doughnuts, but it would allow the NFL to continue seamlessly.
A more likely outcome would be a protracted work stoppage followed by the players capitulating around the projected start date of next season. The league would scramble to sign free agents and then have a quick preseason followed by a shortened regular season.
Another possibility might include a complete loss of next year’s season as the lockout continues unabated. The players themselves could dissolve the NFLPA and attempt to start a league of their own. Congress could step in to mediate as well, though I don’t expect this to occur unless the lockout continues into 2012 or beyond.
In any case, it is highly likely the upcoming negotiations between the billionaires and the millionaires will leave the wretched masses (us fans) as the losers.