Two pretty solid Yahoo! Sports reports came out today about what is actually going on at the negotiating table between the NFL owners and the NFLPA today, and both of them look like bad news for the players.
Michael Silver reports that the sticky wicket of the whole scenario is that the owners refuse to open their financial books. The NFLPA apparently is willing to bargain down on a few key issues, but is unwilling to go any further until the NFL either opens it’s books or lowers it demands.
This could very well be the sticking point that leads to a lockout. Sports owners, which operate in what are essentially cartels, have long been vehemently opposed to opening their books. The owners are trying to prove that they’re getting the short end of the stick in the current system, but refuse to show the real math, relying on only hypothetical examples. Should a lockout happen, followed by the NFLPA decertifying, followed by a lawsuit, the owners very well may be forced to open the books either way by order of a courtroom.
The owners would then seem to have a lot of incentive to bargain rather than allow their books to spill out, as even with creative bookkeeping it’s likely that they make much more than they claim. However, as of today, that’s not the case. It’s pretty apparent at this point that the players are winning the PR war, if only because they actually have a case rather than a good PR strategy. This will come down to another Friday deadline at the mediator’s office, and at the end of the day, probably the NFL and NFLPA will either move forward with the lockout or agree to another extension.
Jason Cole reports that the players and owners have agreed to a few lower parts of the bargaining table, most notably an agreement about the NFL Draft. A rookie wage scale will be instituted in place of the current system, according to Cole. The rookies will, in return, get out of their contracts a year earlier than they used to be able to.
It’s an interesting trade-off. The NFLPA is essentially sacrificing the salaries of the Top 15 picks or so in order to get more free agents out there. The consequences of this plan, should it come to fruition, would likely make draft picks even more valuable. Should restricted free agency survive as well, it would be free agency only in name. Additionally, injury attrition rates will likely cut down many players before they get a chance to hit free agency. I think the owners would clearly benefit from this compromise, but perhaps not as much as you might think.
Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post has a source refuting the idea that this has already been agreed upon, but I think it’s safe to say that this is clearly one idea that’s on the table at least.