NFL, Players Union Begin Labor Talks
In 2011, there might not be any NFL football.
It's hard for fans to understand why owners and players, who make millions of dollars, are having problems right now in a popular sport that gets high television ratings and has two high-profile cities, New York and Dallas, in the finishing stages of building billion-dollar stadiums.
The reality is the owners are struggling and the union doesn't believe them.
In 2006, when the sides put together this current deal, the players picked up about 60 percent of the applicable revenues.
In this current economic climate where teams have frozen staff salaries, stopped matching 401(k) plans, laid off personnel and failed to secure naming rights for new stadiums, like the Cowboys, the owners want changes.
Some owners want a rookie salary scale and for players to take less than 60 percent of the revenues. The owners also want to increase the season from 16 games over a 17 week season to maybe 18 games over a 19-to-20 week season. There would be two fewer preseason games but no guarantees that the base salaries of players would increase.
The union would like to see the owners' financial books. Smith said the union hasn't seen the books in 10 years.
"If we're partners how come we don't know what overhead costs are or net profits is," Smith said last month after visiting the Cowboys players on a tour of NFL teams. "I get a lot of those questions [from the players] and I don't have answers for those questions because we don't know."
If there is no new agreement by March 2010, the salary cap is done and players become unrestricted free agents after six years instead of four. Several young players, who are about to enter unrestricted free agency, are concerned about this. The players want to test the open market.
What's also disturbing about an uncapped year next season is that retired players' benefits are in jeopardy and the league is under no obligation to cover health care costs for the players and their families. Disability payments to the players would decrease and there would no longer be a minimum salary for players.
The owners perceived financial problems have extended to assistant coaches. In March, the owners elected to allow teams to opt out of the league-run pension plan. The move prompted two veteran coaches from the Colts, offensive line coach Howard Mudd and offensive coordinator Tom Moore to retire.
Smith said he was concerned that the owners made this change without going to the coaches' association. Smith wants to help the coaches.
"It's very frustrating to everyone," said former Colts coach Tony Dungy, who is now working for NBC Sports. "I've talked to a number of assistant coaches that are not happy with the way things [are] and it has disruptive things and one the great things we had in Indy was stability."
The NFL is a strong league that has to solve these issues. If not, a great game will get held up for reasons the fans can't fully understand.
"We are focused on getting an agreement that works for the long term," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters this week. "We're not specifically setting any deadlines for dates. Our issue is we know we have two more years of football. We would like to have an agreement that works for everybody in that period of time. It if takes up to the final moment, it takes up to the final moment."