Certainly, it's early and the tough talk is part of the posturing game. Still, NFL Players Association head Gene Upshaw dropped a couple of "N" words in talking about the current status of negotiations for a new contract between the players and the union.
Those two "N" words were NHL and NBA. Upshaw quoted in the Washington Post: Their last proposal to us was totally unacceptable. You see what happened to hockey [a lockout that forced cancellation of the 2004-05 season]. Now basketball is moving in the same direction. I don't see us as being too far off the pace from those two. For some reason, the owners have not moved the ball at all
Just as the NHL has not moved the puck at all in nearly a full calendar year. Its labor problems may be insurmountable and it may well kill the league or at least a lot of its teams. The NBA's labor relations went from friendly but uneasy to hostile at some point last week. A strike or lockout is a strong possibility.
We're still a long ways away from there being a good chance of an NFL strike, but Upshaw's comparisons to the other two labor-strife leagues certainly did ratchet things up a bit.
To sit around and think that labor peace is going to just fall off a tree, they're reading the wrong tea leaves. It's time for them to wake up to the fact that we have a problem, and we need to get it fixed.
The "problem" at hand is over revenues that are not shared by the league's owners and, thus, are not a part of the formula used to calculate the salary cap. Naturally, more revenue going into the top line of the equation means more money in the players' bottom line, their paychecks.
We've covered this here before so I'm not going to retread much ground here. The basic question is this: Should the high-revenue owners such as the Redskins' Dan Snyder be forced to share the revenue generated by luxury boxes and stadium naming rights with the players and/or the other owners playing in older facilities?
It's much easier to make the case that they should be giving the players a cut than it is to argue that other owners should get a piece of the pie. It's like telling Broadway actors that they will get a cut of the ticket sales from the balcony and the far reaches of the lower level of the theater, but nothing from the expensive seats up front.
The effects of a stalemate are closer than you may think. According to ESPN's John Clayton, if a new labor agreement is not reached by this date next year, we will not be talking about June 1 cuts. Since 2007 is currently an uncapped year, there would be no delaying of the acceleration of accrued signing bonuses should a player be cut after June 1. There would be no difference in the cap hits for releasing a player on May 31 and on June 1.
The US Senate recently averted the so-called "Nuclear Option" with a compromise deal. Upshaw is threatening a less severe but still ugly scenario, the "Train Wreck Alternative":
Under the current labor agreement, a salary cap will be in effect for the last time for the 2006 season, and if there is no extension, the 2007 season would be uncapped, meaning teams could spend as much as they want to sign free agent players. Upshaw said if it came to an uncapped year, he would decertify the union, a move that essentially would mean all players would become free agents.
"Once you get to an uncapped year, you can't go back," Upshaw said. "I think that's something they don't want to see happen. I think we need to do this before it gets too late. I'd much rather talk to the players this fall about what we can agree on rather than telling them you better prepare for a train wreck, because that's what it will be."
There's still time but the clock ticking or, should we say, the trains are headed towards each other and they're on the same track.