Labor daze

The Baltimore Sun

NFL owners, meeting in Atlanta, voted unanimously yesterday to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement 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.

Why has this happened?

The owners say economic circumstances are making it more difficult to successfully operate their franchises because of labor costs, the rookie salary pool and court decisions that have disallowed teams from recovering money from players who do not fulfill their contracts.

What kind of money are they talking about?

In round numbers, about $8.5 billion a year in league revenues, of which about $4.5 billion is paid to the players.

How does this change my life as an NFL fan?

On the surface, for 2008 and 2009, it doesn't alter a thing, but could affect some individual contract negotiations. For 2010, things could get hairy. For 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 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 than they are now guaranteed, which is about 60 percent. You can imagine how eager the players are willing to do that. Among the factors affecting the owners is the economy and how it affects 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 dispute among owners about how to distribute revenues among the league's have and have-not franchises beyond the usual gate receipts and TV cash.

So what's being done to avoid a chaotic 2010 and a possible work stoppage beyond that?

Both sides will continue negotiating. Arriving at an agreement by March 2009 would avoid the so-called uncapped year in 2010.

Now for the less obvious stuff.

Even without immediate ramifications, the owners' decision to "opt out" has implications for front offices and player agents negotiating contracts over the next year or so. The prospects of uncapped seasons (as crazy as that might seem) would greatly alter the way both sides might want to structure contracts. It's like trying to hit a moving target you can't even see.

Owners are going to have to come to grips with the way they deal among themselves with the many revenue streams that fall outside the norms of TV and gate money. They should also face the fact that they are the ones responsible when business ventures don't pay off as lucratively in the short run as they may have anticipated, such as NFL

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