Splitting up $9 billion with the hired help can’t be an easy thing to do, so maybe NFL owners weren’t entirely out of line when they voted to approve a new agreement with players and summarily declared labor peace was finally at hand.
That it seemed to come as a surprise to the players themselves soon will become a moot point. Despite tough talk to the contrary, there’s no way players who are about to begin missing some substantial paychecks will vote down a contract nowhere near as draconian as was feared when owners first put up padlocks and declared they would change the way the league does business.
Millionaire players will still get their millions, though Cam Newton and other rookies will take a haircut in their contracts. There’s an attractive injury protection clause and the prospect of guaranteed medical coverage for life.
The idea of an 18-game regular-season schedule has been put aside for now.
Aside from getting guaranteed contracts – something the owners would rather shut down the league than offer – the players didn’t come out too badly. The percentage of revenue they get will go down slightly but the brunt of that will be in contracts for rookies not in the league yet, and new TV deals will help increase the overall pot anyway.
The owners, though, might have done better. That’s why they were in a big rush to vote, and a bigger rush to let fans know what they voted for.
They’re getting a contract unprecedented in length, buying themselves labor peace for the next decade with terms that almost ensure they make money – and lots of it. The deal allows them to save many millions in salaries for unproven rookies, locks up draft picks for at least four years and includes strong rules against contract holdouts.
More important, it includes a hard salary cap based on revenue percentages that will keep free-spending owners in line while allowing smaller-market teams to compete with those in major markets. That’s a competition model that has helped make the NFL the nation’s favorite sport.
Little wonder that 31 billionaires who probably couldn’t agree on where to go to dinner all voted in favor of the proposed deal. The only abstention came from Al Davis, the Raiders’ owner who doesn’t count anyway because he seldom goes along with anything his fellow owners like.
Declaring it a done deal on Thursday was the owners’ way of making sure they get a deal. They even offered to open training facilities to players under contract on Saturday if the NFL Players Association’s executive committee recommends approval to the 1,900 players who will have the final say on the proposed pact.
Smart moves both, making sure that the onus is on players who undoubtedly were growing increasingly anxious as the time for opening training camps grew closer. NFLPA leaders said they were studying the written proposal Friday, but it’s now basically take it or leave it.
Yes, 10 years is an awful long time to commit to a deal. But this is a contract players can live with. It’s a contract for which they can – and will – vote.
Let’s hope it happens quickly. Because the next decade in the NFL can’t start soon enough.
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