The NFL is a huge business, affecting many people other than those playing the game, and the fallout from the lockout is already being felt.
“There are a lot of people whose income depends in large part on the games,” said player agent Jason Chayut of New York-based SportsStars Inc. “People like ticket sellers, vendors. If the games aren’t played, they lose income and it’s not like they can make it up because the season can’t be extended into April.”
Club employes can feel the crunch, too. “The Miami Dolphins have already cut salaries of employees,” noted Chayut.
The lockout remains in place because a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to list a temporary stay — an earlier decision by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson to lift the lockout.
Another important case is in the court of Judge David Doty, who brokered the deal that gave the players free agency and the owners a salary cap in 1994. The players have filed a complaint alleging that the owners deliberately took a lower payment on their last television contract so they could be paid later and have that money to fight the players now.
If Judge Doty rules that the money should be kept in escrow until negotiations on a new contract are complete, that will help to level the playing field in this dispute.
Ostensibly, this dispute is about money, with the owners wanting a bigger share of the pie, but I’ve been writing on NFL labor disputes since the early ’70s and they are always about power. This one is no exception.
The first thing you need to know is that the salary cap is not rigid. Clubs can spend more by using loopholes, the most prominent of which is that bonus money is prorated over the length of a contract. If, for instance, a player signs a five-year contract for $50 million and half of that is paid up front in a bonus, that bonus is prorated equally over the five years.
Players like this kind of contract because the bonus and first-year salary are the only guaranteed money in the contract.
Owners like those contracts because it gives them wiggle room. Some teams spend several million more than the actual cap that way.
The second thing you need to know is that owners have no self-discipline. Nobody is holding a gun at their heads and forcing them to pay huge salaries to free agents or draft choices, but they do it anyway.
One of the things both sides will agree on with a new contract is a rookie wage scale, as the NBA has had with its last contract. The players will probably resist at first, just to have a bargaining chip, but they’re concerned about the players in the league now, not those who haven’t played a down yet.
There’s too much at stake for this not to be settled before the season starts, but both sides will exercise brinksmanship as long as they can. Meanwhile, many who are not involved in the negotiations will be hurt, but don’t expect any sincere regret from either owners or players.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.