NFL labor talks to go into September?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell address the media during a press conference in Dallas, Texas on February 4, 2011, one of the events leading up to Super Bowl XLV. The Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the Green Bay Packers on February 6, 2011. UPI/Ian Halperin

Just when fans thought the owners and the NFLPA were getting somewhere with the CBA discussions, ESPN’s Adam Schefter shared this little nugget on his Twitter page on Friday:

NFLPA Exec Dir De Smith addressing agents now. An agent in room texted: “Not close on one single issue. This WILL go into September.”

AWESOME. I love doom and gloom with my lunch.

Earlier this month when it was announced that the NFL was bringing in a mediator to help resolve some of the issues between the two sides, it was a positive sign that a lockout could be avoided. But apparently the lockout whisperer George H. Cohen was unable to work his magic and the two sides appear no closer to coming to terms.

Perhaps what’s more bothersome than Schefter’s report is something super agent Drew Rosenhaus mentioned on his Twitter page:

It is very disappointing that not a single NFL owner participated in the negotiations/mediation this week. The owners need to be there!

Tell me the owners didn’t skip the mediation that was set up to help ensure that there’s a football season next year. Tell me that they were there and that Rosenhaus is an uninformed clown that doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Tell me that the owners have at least a minute interest in making the fans happy instead of constantly bending us over every chance they get.

If Rosenhaus was right and not one single owner participated in the negotiations this week, then it’s safe to assume that the CBA discussions haven’t budged since Roger Goodell and the league announced that they were bringing Cohen in to help. How infuriating.

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Finally, the first positive signs from the CBA discussions

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell address the media during a press conference in Dallas, Texas on February 4, 2011, one of the events leading up to Super Bowl XLV. The Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the Green Bay Packers on February 6, 2011. UPI/Ian Halperin

After months of failed bargaining negotiations, the owners and union are bringing in the big guns to help resolve the CBA deal.

George H. Cohen, also known as the lockout whisperer, has been called upon by both sides to help mediate the discussions. Mediation is not binding, so whether Cohen can help remains to be seen but at least this is a step in a positive direction (the first we’ve heard when it comes to these discussions).

Last year, Cohen was involved in Major League Soccer talks with its players’ union and a work stoppage was avoided. He’s also worked with the players’ associations for MLB, helping end the 1994-95 strike as a consulting attorney and has been a consultant for the NBA and NHL as well.

But while he’s had success with other leagues, he certainly has his work cut out for him with this new CBA deal for the NFL. When you sift past the proposed topics like an 18-game schedule and the restructuring of rookie salaries, what these discussions ultimately come down to is money. As John Paulsen recently pointed out, if the numbers are correct, the union is currently getting 60% of revenues right now, or around $4.8 million (after the owners get a $1 billion credit). The owners are getting $4.2 billion and seemingly want more of a 50/50 split when it comes to revenue sharing.

The union knows that it has to take a paycut in order for a new deal to be signed. But it’s looking for a trim while the owners want to take out their clippers. Hopefully that’s where Cohen comes in to strike a compromise for both sides.

What a compromise looks like, I don’t know. Maybe the players will have to agree to an 18-game schedule (which they vehemently oppose) to allow the math to work for them to not to take too big a financial hit under the new CBA. Maybe the NFL will have to modify its salary cap structure so that the floor of the cap (which was $108 million in 2009) would be raised to help offset the lowering of the cap ceiling.

Whatever and wherever the comprise comes from, I couldn’t care less. I just want football next year, so let’s hope Cohen can work his magic.

NFL owners walk away from CBA negotiations

Uh-oh. (ESPN)

NFL owners walked away from the negotiating table Wednesday when the NFL Players Association proposed to take an average of 50 percent of all revenue generated by the league, according to player sources.

Consequently, a five-hour second negotiating session scheduled for Thursday was canceled, and no further meetings have been proposed. Also, the NFL notified teams and owners Thursday that a scheduled owners meeting in Philadelphia next Tuesday has been canceled, sources told’s John Clayton.

Wednesday’s meeting in Washington started badly, one source said, when the owners’ negotiating team interpreted the union’s proposal of a 49 percent to 51 percent take as “total revenue,” instead of the union’s intended percentage take of “all revenue.”

At the current revenue levels, “total revenue” has been defined as an estimated $9 billion gross, minus a $1 billion credit in the owners’ favor. In the current CBA deal about to expire, the union’s share has been estimated at about 60 percent of $8 billion, once the $1 billion credit was subtracted.

Owners have asked for an additional $1 billion credit — or $2 billion in total — before they split “total revenue” with players.

So if the 60 percent number is correct, the union is currently getting around $4.8 billion while the owners are getting $4.2 billion ($1 billion credit plus 40% of the remaining $8 billion). If the two sides went to a 50/50 split of the full $9 billion, they’d each get $4.5 billion.

A union source said that if the NFLPA accepted the owners’ current proposal, it would receive a little more than 40 percent of all revenue.

[NFLPA executive director DeMaurice] Smith said in an interview with ESPN last week that a 40 percent to 42 percent share of all revenue would represent the smallest percentage of a players’ share by any professional sports union.

Assuming a 41% cut of all revenue, that’s $3.7 billion, so the owners are asking the union to take a $1.1 billion cut. It sounds like the union is willing to take a $0.3 billion cut (from $4.8 billion to $4.5 billion), so the two sides appear to be $0.8 billion apart.

It is telling that a 40-42 percent share would be the smallest percentage of any professional sports union given the fact that NFL rosters are far bigger than the NBA, NHL or MLB rosters. It seems like the NFL should have the highest percentage or at least be nearly equal to those other leagues.

Key factors in the NFL CBA negotiations

I’m in Las Vegas at the Fantasy Sports Trade Association conference and one of the panels yesterday featured former Packer VP Andrew Brandt (current president of the National Football Post) and sports agent Blake Baratz discussing the ongoing collective bargaining agreement negotiations between the NFL and the Players’ Association.

Here are the key points of contention:

1. Share of revenue.
The players currently get 59% of the pie and the owners would like to see that share reduced. This is obviously a contentious issue.

2. An 18-game season.
The NFL wants to expand the regular season by two games while eliminating two preseason games. This would be a boon for the owners since regular season games bring in more revenue than preseason games. For the players, this is a health and safety issue and one concession that the owners could make might be in the area of health benefits and post-career pensions.

3. Guaranteed salaries.
This is not a big deal with regard to established players like Peyton Manning, who is in the midst of negotiating a contract that would make him the highest paid player…ever. Baratz believes that the main issue is with the Top 10 players in the draft. There is a ridiculous amount of money being thrown at unproven players and everyone (outside of the ten young men who will be drafted that early) would like to see that amount of money reduced. Baratz believes that there isn’t much of a difference between an early first round player and a late first round player, yet the monetary difference is huge, and those fat contracts (think JaMarcus Russell or Ryan Leaf) can hamstring a franchise for years if that player doesn’t pan out. However, the two sides won’t necessarily agree on what to do with the money. The veteran players would like to see it spread around the rest of the league while the owners might just want to cut that cost out completely.

4. Health benefits.
This is more important to the rank and file players than the stars who make far more money, but as of March 3, NFL players will have no health benefits. Brandt mentioned a story where one player asked another if he and his wife should plan to induce labor so that the delivery is covered by insurance.

5. Salary cap.
When we headed into the 2010 season without a salary cap, many pundits were worried about how out-of-control owners would spend, spend and spend some more. Instead, we’ve seen the opposite, with teams slashing salary and going under the salary cap floor. The Players’ Association needs that salary floor to keep players’ salaries up, so they’ll no doubt agree to a similar salary cap structure that was found in the previous CBA.

Both men are optimistic about a deal getting done relatively soon, and place the chances of something getting done before training camp at around 90-95%.

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