SBD/Issue 84/Leagues & Governing Bodies

NFL, Union Labor Talks Include Possible Rookie Contract Changes

During the last two bargaining sessions for a new NFL CBA, the NFL made a formal proposal to implement a rookie wage scale for this April's NFL Draft, and the NFLPA responded with a counter-proposal on changing the structure of rookie deals starting this year, sources said. Under the NFL's proposal, one source said, players drafted in April would be paid a fixed amount based on the slot in which they are selected and "a significant portion" of the savings would be distributed to retired players by improving the current pension plan for retired players. The league made its proposal on January 5 during a bargaining session in N.Y. According to another source, the union responded to the league's proposal at a bargaining session in DC Tuesday with a counter-proposal to implement the union's plan of a maximum three-year rookie deal length for this year's draft, with two qualifications. Those two qualifications are that the current labor deal be extended for two years so there would be at least two years of labor peace, and that the owners match any savings the players would be giving to owners under the league's proposal, said the source. The monies contributed by both the owners and the players would be distributed to retired NFL players, under the union's counter-proposal, the source added. The league is expected to respond to the union's counter-proposal at the next session to be held next week. Sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the CBA negotiations.

CHANGE CANNOT COME UNILATERALLY: The league does not have the ability to unilaterally change the terms and conditions of this year's draft because the NFL CBA does not expire until March '11. But the two sides could agree to make a deal at any time or change any part of the CBA at any time. It is not clear how likely it is that the two sides would reach agreement to substantially change the terms and conditions of the '10 NFL Draft, but if they were to agree, it would be a fairly shocking development. Industry sources expect that more college underclassman may declare for this year's draft, in part to avoid a rookie wage scale in '11. Most college players, as well as player agents, have not been expecting a major change in the system in this year's draft. The implementation of a rookie wage scale is a major plank in the league's overall economic proposal, but the other major plank is for players to agree to give owners credits for costs, which would reduce the salary cap by more than 18%.

POSSIBILITY OF COMPROMISE UNCLEAR: The league is said to want the union to agree to the rookie scale, and then separately bargain the additional cost credits to the salary cap. It does not seem likely that the union would be willing to do that. It also does not seem likely that the league would agree to the union's plan, which would include the owners agreeing to extend the current deal and give up the additional cost credits, as well as other changes owners want.

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