By David J. Cohen
Recently NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell came out and said it is “ridiculous” for players like Jake Long to make boatloads of money without proving themselves in the NFL. He said “There’s something wrong with the system, the money should go to people who perform.”
This is a valid point because new savior Falcons QB Matt Ryan shouldn’t be making Tom Brady money before he takes an NFL snap. It’s a problem that must be addressed at the next collective bargaining agreement. The president of the NFLPA, Kevin Mawae, agrees with Goodell: "As a guy who has been in the league for 14 now going on 15 years and being around other veteran guys, for a young guy to get paid that kind of money and never steps foot on an NFL football field, it's a little disheartening to think of…and I know that's something that the owners are talking about and I'm sure that's going to play into this round of negotiations for this collective bargaining agreement."
But according to Goodell there are a few other major problems that made the owners opt out.
According to Goodell the owners of the richest league in America, the league that is practically a monopoly, are strapped for cash. He says that the big bad players union with their shark representative Gene Upshaw outwitted the poor owners by getting the players 60 percent of the revenue, and that this is the cause of the problem: “That other 40 percent…squeezes the margins and just makes it financially unworkable. There has to be some more recognition of the costs.” Upshaw has been a great representative of the players. So much so that the players are actively looking to follow Matt Stover’s advice and give him the boot before negotiations for the next bargaining agreement begin.
I’m sure Goodell’s rookie salary of $11 million last year made things “financially unworkable”.
The real problem with the current NFL system is the owners. The owners in the NFL refuse to compromise. The 60-40 revenue issue was brought up about a year ago and is going to be addressed during the bargaining agreement negotiations, but the owners are basically threatening to have a lockout season if the NFLPA doesn’t comply with its demands. It’s the owners that allowed these rookie contracts to balloon in the first place. The owners want more money in their pockets so they can continue building new stadiums and more luxury boxes but don’t want to give the players any of it. They see a huge cake and want to eat all of it. They have way too big of a sweet tooth.
What has accelerated these problems is the departure of Paul Tagliabue as the NFL commissioner. He truly was a representative of the league as a whole and was, for the most part, a fair commissioner. He was his own man.
Then Tagliabue retired and the owners found a puppet to represent solely their interests. General Goodell has come in and has acted solely in favor of ownership. When Michael Vick was caught dog fighting and Pacman making it rain in strip clubs Goodell stepped in firmly and handed down indefinite suspensions. These two players, in his estimation, were putting a black eye on the league. The league even tried to get back just about all of Michael Vick’s signing bonus of around $20 million, but failed. Then Spygate happened. Now there was a coach engaged in illegal and compromising practices for years on the biggest ticket in the NFL. A franchise was involved and not a player, which tied ownership into the mix. The taping compromised the integrity of the game. Logically this was more serious and damaging to the league than Vick betting on pitbulls. Goodell decided to fine Coach Belichick $500,000, which I assure you was paid by Patriots Owner Robert Kraft. No harm no foul. The Patriots were so deterred and stung by Goodell’s punishment that Kraft gave Belichick a game ball after their victory the next week. When it comes to the players Goodell doesn’t mind giving them the finger but if an owner is involved suddenly the disciplinarian turns into “well let’s take these tapes to the fireplace, shall we?”
That’s the real problem. The owners are now flexing their muscles by crying poverty because they know they have a commissioner that will accommodate them. And there is a point they are going to bring up along with the rookie thing. In Major League Baseball the players get between 51 percent and 55 percent of total revenues. In the NHL the players get 56 percent. In the NBA the players get 57 percent. On the surface it seems the owners have a legitimate beef with the 60 percent the NFL players are hoarding for themselves. The owners are leaving out one key piece of information.
The NFL doesn’t have guaranteed contracts.
Right now the owners have all the leverage when it comes to contracts. There are veterans from year to year in the NFL that must take pay cuts or be released if the owners make a mistake on a contract. If a player gets a huge contract and gets injured suddenly he’s out of a job. The system isn’t fair, especially given that the NFL is the only major sport where players have a realistic chance of ending their careers on every play. The fact that there aren’t any guaranteed contracts is the reason we have T.O. and Ocho Cinco shenanigans every season. NFL players are chastised for holding out for more money but in a system where there’s essentially no future to count on smart players don’t have a choice. If Goodell and the owners had their way every player would be clean shaven with an army buzz cut, practice, suit up on Sunday, kiss their owners feet, take their check, and then go home quietly. This lack of respect for the players is the root of this problem. Goodell said money should go to players who perform. It’s time for him to back it up.
The NFL needs a rookie cap because no first time player should have $30 million guaranteed to him. They should be somewhat like the NBA in how they escalate from year to year. But this should come at a price. All NFL contracts after a player’s rookie contract should be guaranteed. That would bring the base salaries down but give NFL players what they need – security. There also needs to be a provision that if a player is seriously injured from football or from training and cannot perform in a future season or for the duration of their contract that their team must cover all medical expenses at least up to the amount the player would have earned in their contract. If an injury forces retirement, such as the neck injury to Bengals linebacker David Pollack or in the case of Kevin Everett, the team should cover the medical expenses at least up to their earnings and pay for a negotiated life insurance policy, since the constant hits in football have been medically proven to take years of a person’s life. Also it should be written in stone that any signing bonus given to a player are sacred and can never be taken away for any reason. A signing bonus is money given to a player to sign a piece of paper agreeing to play for a team. As long as a player has played in a game for that club the money should be his for good. The Falcons had every right to go after salary paid to Vick because he violated his contract, but had no right to touch his signing bonus since he played for them and clearly made the Falcons enough revenue to justify the deal. If they had gotten most of that money they would have made hundreds of millions of dollars off of Vick without giving him any proper compensation.
If the owners want the rookies to have a cap so they aren’t playing Russian Roulette with high first round draft picks they will have to compromise and finally give the players the guaranteed contracts they deserve. If this happens then the owners can argue about adding a few percent of revenues to their end in light of the rising inflation costs afflicting every corporation. Unfortunately it’s more likely Michael Vick wins Super Bowl MVP next season. And that’s a shame.
If Roger Goodell wants to be the commissioner of the NFL, this collective bargaining agreement is his chance to bring the league and its players together. If he decides to continue being solely the commissioner of the owners, he needs to take his $11 million dollar a year penance and just shut up.