Sunday, March 05, 2006

2006 Begins Absent CBA Extension

This is going to be a short diatribe, but I have to get this off my chest. I was obviously miffed last week at the lack of progress in NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, and at 7ish on Sunday, talks broke off with only hours looming until the official beginning of the 2006 league year. Sure, a deal could get done after the year starts, but there will be stemming legal ramifications. The ostensible message here is that a deal will not be reached, and the NFL will enter the season under the restrictive measures of the current CBA for 2006, with the uncapped 2007 all but assured.

There is one underlying message to the ongoing labor negotiations: no one wants an uncapped year in 2007; not the players, not the owners. The restrictions in place – six years credited service for free agency eligibility, maximum percentages of salary increases, no team salary minimums, restrictions on playoff teams signing free agents – were included so that the players wouldn’t intentionally balk at negotiations in an effort to secure an uncapped year.

We also know about the ramifications of a work stoppage following the Major League Baseball strike of 1994-95. It took years – and the insufferable inception of interleague play – to boost baseball back to an acceptable level of patronage. The NFL may eclipse MLB in terms of popularity, but that wasn’t so definitively the case in 1993. Without baseball, football was able to thrive and gain popularity. But now they’re risking the same fate as baseball, leaving them to play catch up for years to come.

In essence, everyone wants to get a deal done. And there have been rumblings over the weekend that the two sides were rather close to an agreement and were set back by borderline trivialities. So what gives? Well, the NFLPA is a union with one directive: to act in the best interest of the NFL players. And the NFL negotiating team are acting in the best interest of the league. But it is in neither party’s best interest to enter 2006 sans a new CBA. Therefore, it is reasonable to think that someone with selfish motives is pulling a few too many strings. Here are a few excepts from a report at Pro Football Talk:

Actually, we're hearing that the owner of one of the high-revenue teams is mucking up the efforts to strike a deal that will work for the union, the league, the low-revenue clubs, and the big-money clubs.

We're also hearing that the problem from the union perspective is NFLPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler. As one league insider told us (echoing sentiments we heard on Saturday), "If they could just get him out of the room the deal would get done."

This makes the labor negotiations even more disheartening. If a bad apple or two can spoil the entire process, what does that say for the rest of the governing bodies?

Talks are supposedly set to resume at 8:30 (and it’s 8:31 as I type this sentence), meaning there may be a ray of hope. However, it will take the absence of Kessler and the one owner “mucking up the efforts” for the talks to succeed. Otherwise, they’ll just be going through the motions, “proving” their good faith to the NFL fan base. This one isn’t buying it.

As with most situations in life, there are two outcomes here: they get it done by midnight or they don’t. The failure to execute a CBA extension proves that the representatives of both sides are not acting in the best interest of both parties, not to mention the fans and sponsors who put the money in their pockets. Why, then, should fans continue to support the NFL?

Most people I’ve talked to think that a deal will eventually get done. While that will be all fine and dandy if true, it won’t negate the irreparable damage some teams are currently inflicting on their rosters in order to fit under the current $94.5 million cap. The big money is always spent in the first few weeks of free agency, and it is a great disservice if more money were available in mid-April, since the big names will already be off the market.

I’m hearing that Minnesota, Cleveland, Green Bay, and Arizona are the teams most primed for the small cap number. As such, there is no reason for them to not make an enormous splash as early as today. They have the money in place to sign the big names on the market (i.e. Brees, Alexander, James), and would be wise to spend it quickly. In other words, Jamal Lewis, Edge James, and Ahman Green should be off the market in the early goings (Alexander will likely hold out for more money or simply re-up with Seattle when he realizes he won’t get it).

It’ll be an interesting week, no doubt. It just would have been a lot more interesting with a $108 million cap.

Update: Minutes after I posted my ramblings, Alexander signs an eight-year, $62 million deal that pockets him $15 up front. I offer Shaun my sincere apologies, as I have grossly underestimated his mental facilities to this point.

Further Update: Ahman Green has signed a one-year deal with the Packers, pocketing him $3 million in base salary and a possible $2 mil in incentives.

Man, It Just Keeps Rollin' In: Free agency now begins on Thursday. Don't know how I missed this one last night.