- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2008

Just 26 months after the NFL and the players association went overtime to extend their collective bargaining agreement, that cornerstone of labor peace has been threatened by the owners’ unanimous decision Tuesday to opt out early.

While all but two owners voted in favor of the CBA extension that gave the players a little less than 60 percent of gross revenues in March 2006, now the men in the luxury suites are crying poverty, citing stadium costs and the economic downturn.

“The clubs must spend significant and growing amounts on stadium construction, operations and improvements to respond to the interests and demands of our fans,” the league said in a statement. “The current labor agreement does not adequately recognize the costs of generating the revenues of which the players receive the largest share; nor does the agreement recognize that those costs have increased substantially - and at an ever increasing rate - in recent years during a difficult economic climate.”

Indeed, 16 teams opened stadiums from 1995 to 2007, while three others renovated their facilities. Dallas, Indianapolis and the New York Giants and Jets (jointly) will join the club in the next couple of years. But all of those buildings were either finished or planned before the last CBA was signed, so it’s not like their costs were unexpected in 2006.

Although the agreement continues through the 2010 season, the deadline to get a new deal done is less than 22 months away. That’s because the salary cap will disappear if there’s no agreement by March 2010. As NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw has long maintained, “If we go to an uncapped year, we’re never going back.”

There was no cap in 1993, the first year of free agency, but the clubs knew a cap would come in 1994, so contracts had to be written with that in mind.

As Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian said, “The competitive balance that exists in this league is directly related to the fact that we have a salary cap.”

Indeed, going from worst to first in a division as the New Orleans Saints did in 2006 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did in 2007 is no longer that unusual. And only the 1998 Denver Broncos and the 2004 New England Patriots have repeated as Super Bowl champions during the 14-year salary cap era.

Imagine if there’s no cap in 2010. The NFL, the closest thing to socialism in this capitalistic country because most revenues are pooled, would become like Major League Baseball.

Without the restriction of a cap, Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys could buy every elite free agent on the market the way George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees and John Henry of the Boston Red Sox do. In contrast, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cincinnati Bengals quickly would become like the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates, no longer able to compete to sign top veteran talent.

If the uncapped 2010 occurs, the CBA itself would expire in 2011. Would the owners lock out the players? Who knows how the two sides would achieve labor peace.

The 1982 strike caused the cancellation of seven weeks of games. Five years later, only one week was lost because the owners staged games with replacement players. And those work stoppages occurred well before the free agency/cap era, when players basically belonged to their franchises for the duration of their careers.

The climate has changed vastly since. The average player is a millionaire and could withstand unemployment. The owners also are vastly richer. If the NFL disappears in 2011, it could be gone awhile.

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