NFL owners, meeting in Atlanta, voted unanimously today to opt out of the CBA that they signed with the players union in 2006. This would mean that the NFL would conduct its business with no changes for 2008 and 2009. There would be substantial changes in 2010. And since the deal would end in 2011 instead of 2013, there would have to be a new contract to avoid the possibility of a work stoppage then.
As usual with labor situations, the big picture is complex and the details infinitely more so, so let's try to sum it up.
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Why did the owners do this? The owners say that developing economic circumstances is making it more difficult to successfully operate their franchises because of: a) labor costs, b) the rookie pool, c) court decisions that have disallowed teams from recovering money from players who do not fulfill their contracts.
How does this change my life if I'm an NFL fan? On the surface, for 2008 and 2009, it doesn't alter a thing. For 2010, things could get hairy. That season salary cap rules would change giving teams greater latitude in signing players but players would need six years of service rather than four years to qualify for free agency. And the college draft goes away. If that sounds like a prescription for chaos, it's supposed to. All of those changes that could be harmful to one or both sides are also intended as "poison pills" to get both sides to agree to a new deal.
Can there be a work stoppage? Not until after the 2010 season.
So how does this get resolved? You could write a book about how this could be resolved based on all kinds of scenarios. The owners would obviously like the players to agree to a smaller percentage of the revenues that they are now guaranteed, which is 60 percent. But that's unlikely and this is way more complicated that that. Among the factors affecting the owners is the overall economy and how it impacts financing and building new stadiums and operating the clubs day-to-day. There are the aforementioned court decisions – Michael Vick is the name that pops into everyone's head – that put teams on the hook for the salaries of players who aren't on the field. And not discussed recently is the ongoing intra-owner dispute about how to distribute revenues among the league's have and have-not franchises beyond the usual gate receipts and TV cash.
So what will happen to avoid a chaotic 2010 and a work stoppage beyond that? Both sides will continue negotiating.