SBD/July 15, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Lockout Watch, Day 126: CBA Close After Tentative Deal On Rookie Pay

The NFL and NFLPA "moved to the brink of an agreement in principle to end the sport’s four-month shutdown when they completed a tentative deal Thursday on a new rookie pay system," according to sources cited by Mark Maske of the WASHINGTON POST. The sources said that a "few minor details on the rookie compensation system remained to be worked out as of early Thursday night but an accord on the issue was essentially in place." Additional sources indicated that "with the resolution on rookie pay, a handshake deal between the two sides was possible by Friday but still was more likely to take a few days longer than that to finish." It appeared that there "was a growing expectation within the sport that a resolution to the long-running dispute was near." Maske reports the salary cap for the '11 NFL season reportedly "will be set at approximately $141 million per team including salaries and benefits for players, of which about $120 million will be devoted to players’ salaries." Remaining "unresolved issues apparently include retiree benefits and free agency rules." League and NFLPA reps are "scheduled to meet Tuesday in Minneapolis" with U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, and both sides "apparently would like to have an agreement in principle by then to present to Boylan" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/15). On Long Island, Bob Glauber noted 10 members of the NFL's 12-owner negotiating team were at Thursday's talks, "which lasted into the evening." One person involved with the negotiations said, "We have not had this many owners in one spot for labor talks since March 11" (NEWSDAY, 7/15).

ON THE GOAL LINE: ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported the players are “willing to give up judicial oversight, which was a big deal for the owners.” There will now be a “panel of former judges who will do the arbitration and a lot of disciplinary matters, though it appears commissioner discipline may still be separate from them.” Mortensen noted the remaining issues include workman’s compensation and the “settlement of the Brady anti-trust lawsuit.” He said, “There were skeptics in that room up there who say that they were shocked at the momentum towards a settlement as the night moved on. I think it is reasonable to think there might be an agreement in principle within 24 to 48 hours” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 7/14). NFL Network's Albert Breer said, "To say we’re close might be overdoing it a little bit, but the momentum is positive and the two sides are in a good place” (“NFL Total Access,” NFL Network, 7/14). A source on the players' side late Thursday said, "I know everybody is tired of hearing the word ‘close.’ I know I am. But I think this is really, truly right there, ready to be done unless somebody comes in and really screws things up" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/15). However, a source said the issue of judicial oversight not been discussed for weeks (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal).

DETAILS OF ROOKIE SCALE: Sources said that the agreed upon rookie wage scale calls for "five-year contracts, with a team option for the fifth year." If the "team option is exercised, in the fifth year the top 10 picks would receive a salary equal to the average of the top 10 player salaries at their respective positions," and that money "would be guaranteed if the option is exercised after the third year of the contract." Also under the agreement, if the "team option is exercised, in the fifth year picks 11-32 would receive a salary equal to the average of the Nos. 3-25 salaries at their respective positions." That money "would be guaranteed if the option is exercised after the third year of the contract" (ESPN.com, 7/15). ESPN's Cris Carter said, "If you’re taking the money from the young kids, I think that they should keep the standard contract entering the league to a four-year deal. ... I hope the current players have a tough stance on it and do not let the owners have a five-year initial contract for guys coming into the league” ("NFL Live," ESPN, 7/14).

POSSIBLE CAP EXEMPTION: ESPN's Mortensen reported the salary cap will be $120M, “but for this year, they might get a $3 million exemption for a player." The cap in '09, the last year played under a salary cap, was $128M. ESPN's Sal Paolantonio said, “If you have a $120 million salary cap all of a sudden, you could have teams over the cap, so you would have an exemption in place for certain teams” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 7/14). USA TODAY's Gary Mihoces notes with the salary cap settled, the "next domino to fall in the talks could be setting the minimum amount teams can spend under the salary cap." That number is "expected to be between 90% and 100%" (USA TODAY, 7/15). The guaranteed spend "forces every team to put up more than 90 percent of the salary cap in cash each season." Sources indicated that the owners a few weeks ago "talked about having the guaranteed spend number at close to 100 percent of the salary cap." That number and percentage "could still be adjusted" (ESPN.com, 7/14).

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch notes the two sides "already have worked out the overriding issue -- how to divide annual league revenues that reached $9.3 billion last year." The NFLPA "has agreed to reduce its cut to 48 percent (down from 53 percent) in part because the owners will no longer take $1 billion off the top and have promised to double league revenues by 2016" (N.Y. POST, 7/15). In N.Y., Judy Battista notes players are expected to receive between 46-48% of all revenue, "but there will also be a mandatory amount that teams must spend in cash on player salaries each year" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/15). Meanwhile, in L.A., Sam Farmer notes there will be a "compressed free-agent period after a deal is done, and that includes the scramble to sign first-year players who have been waiting in limbo." NFL Network's Mike Mayock: "It's going to be a feeding frenzy." Mayock said that, "in anticipation of the lockout and the inability to contact prospects in the immediate aftermath of the draft, many teams took special care to make connections with college players to lay the groundwork for the eventual signing period" (L.A. TIMES, 7/15).

WANT TO BE A PART OF IT: The AP's Jon Krawczynski reported a group of retired players sent the NFL a letter Thursday "asking to be a part of the negotiations." In it, the players refer to a letter they received from Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson and Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy that said improving benefits and retirement plans were a "top priority." The letter comes less than two weeks after the group of retired players, including HOFers Carl Eller, Marcus Allen and Franco Harris, filed a complaint "alleging that the NFL and NFLPA 'have conspired' to set low retiree benefit and pension payments" (AP, 7/14).

Peterson says there will be no hard feelings
toward owners once lockout ends
CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY
: In Pittsburgh, Mark Kaboly reports Steelers LB James Harrison in his interview with Men's Journal, during which he criticized NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, "also verbally attacked Goodell's top assistants," NFL Exec VP/Football Operations Ray Anderson and Dir of Football Operations Merton Hanks. Harrison referred to Anderson as "another dummy who never played a down" and said Hanks, a former Pro Bowl safety, "needs to be ashamed because he played D before, but he ... never was what you'd call a real hitter" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 7/15). FOX SPORTS' Jason Whitlock noted in the players' minds, Goodell "symbolizes everything that's wrong with this labor dispute." Whitlock: "Goodell, the darling of the NFL media elite, is despised by the men he governs. He's seen as a phony and an opportunist." Harrison's view of the commissioner is "popular among NFL players." Goodell "made the mistake of appointing himself judge, jury and prosecutor of the NFL's conduct policy." He then "accentuated the error by becoming the face of the league's crackdown on helmet-to-helmet collisions and other violent hits." Whitlock added, "When this lockout ends and a labor deal is struck, Goodell must immediately begin work on rehabilitating his image with NFL players. If he can't do it, he should be replaced in two or three years" (FOXSPORTS.com, 7/14). However, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson on Wednesday said that "in his opinion there will be no hard feelings when players return from the lockout." He said, "It’s business as usual. You never get what you want, but you can get close to it. So I’m sure that’s what it’s going to end up being" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 7/14).
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