Breaking it Down: Roger Goodell, NFLPA and NFL Lockouts

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As you no doubt know by now, the NFLPA has decertified their Union, which paves the way for individual players (like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees, if reports are to be believed) to sue the league on anti-trust regulations.  Which will be very interesting.  But we will get to that later.  For now, I'd just like to discuss the very important email that I got from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.  You can read that letter here.

It is Goodell's public announcement following the NFLPA's move, and if I trusted the Official Mouthpiece of Whiny Billionaires, it would be a comprehensive and impressive indictment.  Here's the money paragraph:

"The proposal we made included an offer to narrow the player compensation gap that existed in the negotiations by splitting the difference; guarantee a reallocation of savings from first-round rookies to veterans and retirees without negatively affecting compensation for rounds 2-7; no compensation reduction for veterans; implement new year-round health and safety rules; retain the current 16-4 season format for at least two years with any subsequent changes subject to the approval of the league and union; and establish a new legacy fund for retired players ($82 million contributed by the owners over the next two years)."

Let's start at the beginning of that, and just dwell on how unhelpful that first phrase is.  They offered to split the difference on the player compensation gap.  No one is entirely sure which gap Goodell means, of course.  They went into mediation with a billion dollar gap; the mediator managed to get it down to $800 million.  But keep in mind, all of that money was player salary.  So, agreeing to "split the difference" still means an extra $400 - $500 million per year lining ownership pockets.  But I'm guessing, as Goodell, freed for the mediation table rules--his opposite number no longer exists, after all--doesn't get into specifics.

Goodell's letter presumably went out to anyone who signed up to get messages from the ownership (I have a hard time calling it the league in the midst of a financial civil war--"the league" has to include players, doesn't it?).  I know I'm a pretty smart guy, and I first mentioned the possibility of a lockout in 2009*.  This here blog has been pretty clear since that moment -- we have taken the bold, obvious stand that the owners are the bad actors in this drama.  Barnyard* and I even went on Internet Radio back in 2009 to warn you all!

Keep that in mind when I say that I have had to read this phrase a half-dozen times to get what Goodell is saying:  "guarantee a reallocation of savings from first-round rookies to veterans and retirees without negatively affecting compensation for rounds 2-7."   Is that supposed to be a clear statement of principle, there?  Let's be clear, because it is pretty easy to do so--"Since salaries for rookies completely crater towards the end of Round 1, we can impose a new rookie salary cap that impacts the Top 10 Rookies the most, and we will pass that money to veterans and retirees."  Simple.

You'd be hard pressed to negatively affect compensation for Rounds 3-7, and I'm pretty sure Goodell knows that.  They get small signing bonuses, if any.  And they certainly don't get guaranteed deals that last half a decade, like the First 10 picks do.  It seems like an odd construction, but it has been part of the modus operandi of Goodell and his cohorts to make the Draft seem like one big problem, instead of a 10 player problem. It doesn't bear up under scrutiny, though.

And can I just say that a fund that owners contribute $82 million dollars towards to help pay for retiree health care sounds impressive, until you remember that there are 32 owners, and each and everyone them owns a NFL franchise that is worth, at minimum, $800 million dollars, and they have a personal wealth that at least equals that, and that part of that compromise meant the players giving up at least $400 million of their own wealth--suddenly the idea of each owner paying under $3 million a year for two years doesn't sound all that impressive.  I mean, they all make that much on beer licenses in their stadiums.

These all seem like honest compromises from the NFL Owners.  But ask yourself what the players asked themselves when this series of compromises hit the mediator's table--"Why should we give up one dollar of salary when the owners seem terrified to open up their books?"

*kudos to my occasional collaborator barnyard, who way back in 2009 wrote, "NFL Owners will likely benefit by shortening the existing agreement and taking negotiations to the edge of a work stoppage. NFL Players will likely be demonized as the greedy actors who would destroy a commonly loved product for personal gain."  That's some nice predicting, toy.  I mean boy.