I’d like to think of myself as an average guy. My political views are moderate. I’m an economic conservative and social progressive. But my political views don’t shape how I see this matter of NFL ownership vs the NFL Union. Your politics shouldn’t shape yours either.
When I look at this current CBA mess, I’m not for either side. I’ve never liked the vastly overpaid ($15MM per year) power hungry, uneven justice serving Roger Goodell and I’m not fond of this Demetrius Smith lawyer. Is the salary cap growing at a rate that is too steep and unsustainable? I think so. Are 1st round pick salaries out of control? Certainly, this is not even debatable. I get that the 2006 CBA wasn’t working for the owners and they want a bigger piece of the pie. And the truth is, the owners will eventually get their way. I fully believe the players will lose this lockout because they’ll make less money in 2011 than they did in 2009. Moving forward, I believe that the salary cap won’t grow nearly as fast as it did over the last half decade. And I don’t think any of that is a bad thing.
But the fact remains that owners and players negotiated and agreed to a CBA in 2006 that was to run thru the 2012 season. Just three years later (in 2009), the owners realized the deal they created was not working out as they hoped it would namely because the salary cap was going up faster than the owners had expected or projected. So the owners opted to terminate the CBA two years early. Let me make this very clear. We’d have football in 2011 and 2012 based on the players and owners abiding by the CBA each side negotiated and agreed to in 2006. But the owners terminated the agreement two years early, which is why this is a lockout, not a strike. That is an important and easy distinction to make. This lockout was caused and initiated 110% by the owners when they opted out of the current CBA early. This isn’t a McGeorge’s framed opinion, it’s a very simple fact. The owners created the lockout in 2011. Not the players, not the Demetrius Smith and the Union, not the fans, not Obama or George W Bush. And it wasn’t like the NFL was broken from 2006 to 2010. In fact, the NFL has reached unprecedented levels of popularity. And yet, the owners opted out and put the 2011 season at risk due entirely to financial concessions they are requiring the players to take.
Most of us like Pat Bowlen, some more than others, but Pat is widely regarded as one of the better owners in the NFL. Al Davis, Dan Snyder, Jerry Jones, Mike Brown (owner of Bengals), Stephen Ross (Dolphins), Bill Bidwell (AZ Cardinals) are also NFL owners. They are on the same side as Pat Bowlen and many of these guys are not good men IMO. I’ll also include Goodell in this mix of unsavory dudes. These men are selfish (Brown & Bidwell), ego driven (Jones, Snyder & Goodell), greedy (all players and owners) and mean spirited (Davis and Ross). In short, I don’t and wouldn’t trust many of the NFL owners or their leadership. I bet the players feel the same way.
Peter King brought up a point the other day about the profitability metrics offered by the owners. He used the example of club owned private jets. Dan Snyder has a private jet. I’ve seen it before. It has the Redskin’s logo on the tail. I bet most (all) owners have private jets. Peter King was making the point that some, maybe all, NFL teams will lump private jet expenses into that profitability data. If Dan Snyder wants to fly his wife and her six best girlfriends private from Palm Beach to Aspen to Beverley Hills for a shopping spree bender, that is his right as one of the richest cats in America. But if he is showing that flight expense as a reduction in team profitability because his wife and pals used the Redskins charter plane, that rubs me all sorts of wrong ways. I understand why the players are seeking transparency, even if they won’t get it.
Owning an NFL team is nothing like owning and operating a traditional business. I am not even close to the first person to say this, but pro sports ownership is not and never has been a good way to turn a profit. Pro sports ownership satisfies owner needs such as fame, competitive drive and prestige. When Denver won Super Bowl 32, Pat Bowlen was in front of hundreds of millions of people saying “this one’s for John”. Do any of you guys know the CEO or presidents of Starbucks, McDonalds, JP Morgan, or Boeing? Probably not, but we do recognize a lot of pro sports owners because it’s a high profile job. Pat Bowlen is one of the most famous and well known men in Colorado. He basks in this and it’s a tangible perk. And there are dozens of other perks to being an NFL owner, but making obscene profits year over year isn’t one of them and IT NEVER HAS BEEN.
Some of you would love to make this out as union referendum (again, truth be told, I’m not a pro union guy). But this situation bears no resemblance to what is happening in Wisconsin or say GM vs their union. The NFL runs an unusual business where the players (employees) are the product. The players are the life blood of the machine. The NFL is about, and popular because of, the likes of Payton Manning, Barry Sanders, Reggie White, Adrian Peterson, and Clay Matthews. Starbucks can replace a barista and JP Morgan can find another commodities trader. It’s not as easy to replace Dumerville or John Elway. Those guys are NFL football. NFL football is not Investco Field, the throwback uniform weekends or Jerry Jones’s 70 yard TV screen. The owners don’t add value or drive the popularity of the game, the players do.
And how many owners killed themselves last year because their brains don’t function properly thanks to post career concussion problems? How many can’t walk normally past 45 because their knees or hips were destroyed playing a violent game 16+ times a year? How many are like Kevin Everett, whose career was ended when he was nearly paralyzed in a game vs Denver in 2007? How many are bankrupt by 35?
Look, I’m not in full support of the players. I think they need to make certain financial concessions for the good of the game. The salary cap is growing too fast, top 10 draft pick salaries are disgusting, solid vets have careers ended too early because cheap### owners like Jerry Richardson would rather stock his roster with crappy rookies that turn a decent team into a 2-14 garbage squad. I also think the players are focused on several of the wrong things. If I were them, I’d be gunning for no strings attached UFA after year 4, the elimination of franchise tags or tags of any kind, a rookie wage scale with all savings dumped back into vet salaries, and an increase in the salary floor. I’d also aim to secure better healthcare and retirement benefits. Most of the players are bad to terrible with money so the time value of money equations flies out the window. The vast majority of players would be better off allocating a larger portion of the salary to pension like checks they’ll receive in retirement.
But I still recognize that the players have much more at stake than the owners. Most, if not all, of the owners are billionaires. The dollar value of their franchises have gone thru the roof in the past decade. I have no sympathy for their cause of wanting more games and more money at the expense of the player’s salaries and salary growth. The NFL has a much weaker union than MLB and the NBA so I shed crocodile tears for the NFL owners that agreed to a CBA in 2006 they soon thereafter hated so much they opted to lock the players out before that deal even expired.