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CBA not as bad as advertised for NFLPA and players

DeMaurice Smith

NFL players union chief DeMaurice Smith pauses as he speaks during a news conference outside their headquarters, Thursday, May 24, 2012, in Washington. Smith repeated charges that the NFL Players Association claimed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota on Wednesday that the 32 teams had a secret salary cap in place during the uncapped 2010 football season, and that it cost players at least $1 billion in wages. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)


It’s become fashionable to assume that the NFL clobbered the NFLPA during the 2011 labor negotiations. And it’s easy to make that case persuasively. Teams are doing well (as evidenced by the only publicly-available financial records, from the Packers), less money is being spent on rookies, less money is being spent on veterans who aren’t franchise quarterbacks or among the increasingly small slice who are overpaid early in free agency, and the salary cap is creeping up only via the periodic robbing of Peter to pay Paul.

On Sunday, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe became the most recent writer to raise the issue, complete with anonymous quotes from at least two of the more-than-a-few agents who don’t like NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and thus will seize on any opportunity to complain about him -- especially if those complaints can be registered without attaching names to them.

But, as always, there are two sides. We’ll shed light on the other side for now, with some information (not opinion) supplied by a source with direct knowledge of the agreement, from the NFLPA’s perspective.

First, any deal that was done by the NFLPA needs to be considered in light of the alternatives. The owners were determined to crush the union in 2011, in order to offset a deal the NFL deemed to be a bad one in 2006. The players weren’t going to win; the only question was the magnitude of the loss.

What’s that, you say? The players could have held firm and pushed its legal challenge to the lockout while foregoing game checks during Sundays in September through December of 2011? Sorry, but the players weren’t wired to lose any of their money two years ago in order to help future players earn more of it. And the owners knew it.

Second, agents who complain about the CBA focus only on the salary portion of the salary cap. Including benefits, the cap per team is roughly $150 million in 2013, with $27 million going to benefits. Agents don’t care about benefits because they get no commission on them, “but for the players it is a lot more than a few extra thousand a month on a pension,” the source explained.

Third, the cash portion of the salary cap, while expected to “smooth” in coming years, will still increase. By 2016, the source said it’s expected to be in the range of $140 million. (That sentiment contradicts multiple reports regarding the expected slow growth of the cap.)

Fourth, while the rookie wage scale holds down compensation for players taken in round one, the players selected in rounds two through seven actually are doing better under the new system, according to the source.

Fifth, the players in the second half of round one will end up not very far behind what they earned under the old system, if teams exercise the year-five option for first-round deals.

Sixth, while draft picks now much wait at least three years to be eligible for second contracts, the deals undoubtedly will be better when done with only one year left until free agency as opposed to two.

Seventh, the minimum cash expenditure requirement (which for now compels teams to spend 89 percent of the unadjusted cap on a four-year rolling basis) will become more relevant as 2016 approaches, and the first four-year window becomes cemented in to place.

Eighth, after the 2013 season, high first-round picks who will become eligible for new contracts will begin to get significant new contracts. Guys like Cam Newton, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, J.J. Watt, Aldon Smith, and Colin Kaepernick (a high second-round pick in 2011) will demand -- and receive -- the money they didn’t get in 2011, due to the new rookie wage scale. That will continue year after year, with the first-rounders who become star players demanding, and getting, new deals after three seasons.

Ninth, the Packers’ most recent profits are skewed by a variety of reasons, including minimal stadium investment. “Green Bay is definitely one of the most profitable teams, does anyone think teams such as the Raiders, Vikings, Bills, Bucs, Jaguars, Rams, Chargers, and a host of others you can think of are anywhere close?” the source said.

Besides, the Packers’ profits were skewed via the absence of the Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews extensions. The source pointed out that Rodgers and Matthews will earn roughly $65 million in 2013, none of which shows up on the current balance sheet. In 2012, they earned less than $11 million combined.

Tenth, and finally, the players very much wanted to obtain reductions in practice time and intensity, and they did. While it was mentioned in Volin’s story, not enough emphasis was placed upon a term that prompted many football people to complain about the concessions made, with one front-office employee griping privately that the players all but secured the ability to have someone else play the games on their behalf. Like the benefits portion of the salary cap, however, agents don’t give much credence to reduced practice time and intensity because the agents don’t get paid for that.

None of this means the players won the last round of CBA talks. All things considered, they didn’t. The owners got the better of the negotiations, five years after believing that they lost. Unless people on both sides of the table realize that it wasn’t a blowout, it’ll be hard to avoid another work stoppage in 2021, which will be here faster than anyone realizes.

Then again, for the players to take a stand in eight years, they’ll need to have the same willingness to forego game checks that they didn’t have two years ago. Unless they do, the owners will at least emerge with the same deal they have now, if not something better.