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National Football League
Draft King Analysis

June 22, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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The information blackout last week during the negotiating between the NFL and its players stayed remarkably tight. That happened in large part because of a federal court order for the talks to operate in secret. In many ways, the resulting coverage reminded me of the "Peterson Family News" sketch from the first episode of season two of the classic HBO series Mr. Show where a fictional news team was providing live coverage of an FBI standoff at a cabin. The sketch revolves around a studio anchor who keeps repeatedly asking the field reporter for updates despite being told numerous times that there was nothing new to report. Finally the field reporter had endured enough and was set off.

Harmon Peterson: "I don't know! Maybe this tree knows? Tree, excuse me, can you predict the future for me? [Harmon holds the mic to the tree for a second] No? Can I check back with you every two minutes for sixteen days? [Pause] Great! Thanks! Look, when I say there's no information, that means there's no new information. I'm not trying to hide anything on you, okay?"

Maybe it didn't reach that extreme of a level, but in many ways it felt that way, with time ticking closer and closer toward the start of the 2011 NFL season. People I know who sometimes "know things" were in the dark. Both sides were remarkably tight-lipped, much to their credit, though the frustration level by NFL fans desperate for updates was (and still is) understandably strong.

Luckily for those desperate for information, the NFL owners held a special meeting yesterday just outside of Chicago, and quickly enough reports started streaming out that might help to illuminate some of what is being considered by the NFL and its players:

-Mike Freeman reports that the idea of an 18 game NFL regular season is dead. I sure hope that he's correct with that information. The concept of a longer NFL regular season would mean diluting the value of each game, exposing star players to two more games where they might sustain a severe injury, hurting the chances of fringe players trying to make teams by eliminating two preseason games, and overall coming across like greedy bastards.

-Len Pasquarelli reports that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is likely within the next 2-3 weeks. Citing an unnamed owner of an AFC team, Pasquarelli reports that there wasn't much dissent among the owners about the plan for a new CBA, which is important since 24-of-32 owners must approve the CBA for the NFL to be able to agree to it.

-Chris Mortensen (among others) reports perhaps the biggest news to come from the talks: that the NFL is willing to move from a financial model where the league takes $1,000,000,000 (that's one billion U.S. dollars) off the top and the players receive 60% of what's left to a model where nothing (zero U.S. dollars) is taken off the top, but the players receive 48% of all revenue, at least initially, a number that will "never" dip below a 46.5% take.

There have been reports that the owners initially wanted 42-44% for the players and that the players wanted 50%, so a 46.5-48% range seems like a reasonable compromise.

-John Clayton reports that teams will likely to required to spend "close to 100 percent of the salary cap" on rosters. This might be a concern for smaller-market owners, but it holds true to the time-honored tradition of the NFL keeping as strong of a competitive balance as possible.

As for the dissenting voices among the NFL's 32 teams, Mike Freeman made this list two days ago speculating on how the 31 NFL owners (the Packers are publicly owned) would vote on the CBA. His projected "no" votes span both sides of the economic scale, listing Dallas and Washington (presumably with the idea that Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder would want to be able to outspend other teams more easily to gain a competitive advantage) along with Buffalo and Cincinnati, the only two teams to vote against the last CBA in 2006. Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson infamously said after the vote that he opposed the deal because "I didn't understand it", something that the now 92-year-old owner was ridiculed for after the fact.

Two others listed by Freeman that weren't in the "yes" column were Jacksonville (as "unknown") and Oakland (humorously as "who knows"); the other 26 teams he projected as yes votes. Even if two of those 26 flip to no and the no/unknown projections all land as no votes, the remaining owners would have enough votes to get the 24 yes votes needed for a new CBA. My anticipation is that, once the NFL brass and the player reps agree to a new deal, the owners will have well more than the minimum 24 affirmative votes needed to ratify it. All parties involved would like to see this lockout end, save for perhaps the United Football League.

There is a strong expectation that, under the new NFL CBA, players will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after four years of service. 2010 was an anomaly, as under the final year rules of the last CBA, players were restricted in free agency until having completed six years in the NFL instead of the four years that have typically been the minimum for players to become unrestricted free agents. That lead to a number of holdouts by players nonplussed about the restrictions, ranging from Patriots OG Logan Mankins to Chargers WR Vincent Jackson, though all finally caved by mid-season and signed one-year deals.

Keep in mind that, whenever a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached, there will be a huge market of unrestricted free agent players available. It will be an interesting mix of veterans looking for a huge payday and undrafted players who normally would have signed within hours of the end of the NFL Draft who were unable to in the absence of a new CBA. NFL scribes following player signings will be working overtime to keep up with it all whenever the floodgates finally open.


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