After 116 days of a lockout that threatened to cancel the season of arguably America’s favorite sport, the NFL owners and players seem to be close to a new collective bargaining agreement that will allow the season to start on time with no games missed.
Many believe that a new deal will be ratified at the owners’ meeting July 21 in Atlanta, giving the league enough time for free agent and rookie signings and for training camps to open on time.
The two sides have the basic framework on a deal completed, with the players expected to receive between 46.5 percent and 48 percent of the league’s total revenue.
The main sticking point now pertains to the rookie wage scale. Both sides have agreed to cut first-round compensation almost in half, with the owners proposing the top pick receive a five-year deal worth between $34 and $36 million, with the rest of the first round falling into a slotting system. In 2010, top pick Sam Bradford signed a six-year, $78-million dollar deal with $50 million guaranteed.
Players selected in rounds two through seven would receive four-year deals. The NFLPA would prefer that the fifth year be eliminated or become a team option that becomes fully guaranteed once exercised in the top 10 salaries for that position in the league. The owners would prefer that the fifth year be worth a fixed amount of around $4 million.
Much of the owner’s proposal seems to be focused on eliminating the player agent’s role in negotiating that fifth year with the individual teams.
It is encouraging that the two sides have continued negotiations, despite the 2-1 ruling by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals late last week that the lockout was indeed legal and lifting the lower court injunction that temporarily stopped the lockout back in April.
In their shocking decision, the two justices ruled that American law prohibits the use of injunctions against lockouts in labor disputes. The dissenting judge noted that three other circuits had ruled entirely opposite to their decision.
The owners could have taken this added leverage to really force the players to accept a deal they wouldn’t like, but instead the two parties released a statement that the ruling would not affect the current negotiations between the two sides. However, if there is a breakdown over the next week, the ruling could prove fatal, as the owners can continue to lock the players out until they come to a deal entirely in their favor.
If a deal is indeed done by July 21, then a mad scramble will take place amongst the 32 teams and the players. To prepare for the melee of free-agent signings, rookie signings, and undrafted rookie signings, the league is preparing a document known as “The Transition Rules.” These rules will dictate the time periods and deadlines for when everyone must be signed and when training camps will begin.
A process that usually is done over the entire summer will now be squeezed into two weeks, as most teams start training camp at the end of July, with the regular season set to start on September 11, the 10-year anniversary of the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks.