On Friday, March 4, the current NFL owners and NFL Players Association’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) ends–14 days from now. If no new agreement is put in place, that means the largest and most successful sports league in the country could come crashing to a screeching halt. All around the country, NFL team headquarters like Winter Park, where the Minnesota Vikings train in Eden Prairie, could go relatively quiet. A lockout could occur, a decertification of the NFLPA could take place and the business of the NFL as we know it would cease.
There isn’t a player, team owner, fan or anyone else affiliated with the NFL (in their right mind) that wants that to happen. And it would be a huge mistake for it to take place to the point that the 2011 season is jeopardized. Take a look at how good things are for the NFL:
The recent Super Bowl was one of the most watched television broadcasts in history.
The players in the league are making record amounts of money, as are teams and the NFL itself.
The league has morphed into a year-round business in which fans look for information on their favorite teams 365-days a year. It is the most popular professional sport in the country.
Locally, the Vikings have a brand new coaching staff that is champing at the bit to get started shaping and rebuilding their team. As Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said on the NFL Network yesterday, the window on this team is still open to make a run, so the veterans on the team are anxious to get back on the field.
The Vikings are one of many teams that would be hurt by a lockout and protracted CBA battle. VP of player personnel Rick Spielman told the media earlier this week that he expects there to be plenty of turnover on the roster, with younger players stepping up into starting roles. Therefore, it is imperative the CBA gets settled and the Vikings get a chance to survey their options in the free agent market. The are in a division with two teams that made it to the conference final last season and one, the Green Bay Packers, that is set to defend its Super Bowl crown tomorrow without ever having to make a roster move.
In addition for Minnesota, there is that pesky quarterback situation that can’t fully be addressed unless the Vikings get a chance to see who is available and for what price in free agency or through a trade. The 2011 NFL Draft in April will go on as scheduled, but certainly the draft picks that the team makes will depend upon what they can achieve elsewhere. If they can’t conduct any league business, there can be no discussions with free agents or other teams.
The gap between the players and the owners seems to have widened recently as the owners walked away from a meeting with the NFLPA and then cancelled a subsequent meeting that had been scheduled. Of the major issues that appear to be sticking points, certainly number one is how the teams and players will split the billions of dollars in revenue that the league makes every season.
In addition, during the past season, the owners decided to add two games onto the schedule going forward in an effort to earn more revenue. It has not been confirmed exactly how that new schedule configuration would work–18 regular season games and two preseason or whatever–the owners appear to be willing to hear the players on that point. Regardless, it changes things dramatically.
But we have stated here previously and continue to contend now that the 18-game schedule is merely a negotiating ploy by the owners. No one from the players, media and most fans to anyone who is seriously concerned about the health of the players wants to expand the regular season. We believe the owners have made the change and put it on the table to only pull it off later when they need to barter for something else they want.
It may have been a good move as now there is all kinds of talk about 18-game schedule–the media speaks of expanding rosters, more pay for the players, an additional bye-week, etc.–all serving to give the proposal more steam. We don’t, however, believe that the final CBA will include any provisions for a 18-game schedule. All the changes it would mean to the league, discussions about the proposal and the ill will it could cause would definitely extend these negotiations much further than they may already will last.
In the end, cooler heads should prevail. We don’t know how quickly they will prevail–it’s beginning to appear that a deal won’t be struck by March 4th, but we are hopeful things won’t drag on too long. If the owners and players have learned anything over the years, it is the good thing they have going with this golden-egg laying goose called the NFL. They have to be very careful moving forward to apply that knowledge in these talks and not do anything to kill it.
Update: On Thursday afternoon, it was reported by ProFootballTalk.com that the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to seven straight days of conversations in attempts to get the negotiations going again. Well, that sounds like a good start.