Though the disclosure that the union asked the NFL to extend the current capped system for a year represents the portion of the memo from NFLPA Executive Director De Smith to all players agents that will generate the most attention, there’s a more ominous message in the two paragraphs that follow the articulation of Smith’s desire to freeze the current system in place.
Here’s the full text of the two paragraphs in question:
“The NFLPA just recently won a Special Master decision against the NFL and its clubs which will force the high revenue clubs to share millions of additional dollars with the low revenue, small market clubs during the 2010 season. The decision to pursue this action was based upon our belief that we had to make more money available to sign players in the uncapped year.
“Remember also that the uncapped year provides just that — no cap or limit on the amount of money a club may spend on player salaries. The last time there was an uncapped season in the NFL was in 1993, and in that season clubs spent collectively over 70% of league revenue on player costs. While we cannot predict what will happen in 2010, we suspect that it will be dependent on the individual player and team. Given the projected increases in NFL revenues for 2010, more money should be available for player salaries than ever before. In addition, keep in mind that each NFL club will be saving approximately $10 million in benefit costs as a result of their not having to fund certain benefits in the uncapped year. That money can and should be used for player salaries.”
In other words, Smith is making it clear that, if teams don’t spend significant money on the available free agents and/or players already under contract, the union will have something to say about the matter. Even if there’s never enough hard evidence to prove collusion, there are other ways that the NFLPA can use a lack of spending on veteran players to instigate controversy.
For example, we believe there could be a rash of high-profile players speaking out about the failure of their respective teams to spend money in order to build competitive rosters. In this regard, keep a close eye on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a recent arrival to the union effort whose voice would carry plenty of weight in the ongoing effort by the NFLPA to paint the owners as the bad guys in this fight between billionaires and millionaires.
Then there’s the offseason program. Apart from the reality that many of the restricted free agents who would have been unrestricted free agents will refrain from signing their tender offers and thus staying away from most offseason practices, the players already under contract have every right to boycott the offseason strength and conditioning program and all voluntary offseason practice sessions.
As one agent told Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal regarding restricted free agents, “If they want this fight, let’s have it right now.” That thinking applies to all other players, too.
So the players can strike without striking, and there’s nothing the NFL can do about it.
Wait, there is. The NFL can roll up their sleeves and get a new deal done. A deal that’s fair to everyone.
As we pointed out last week, if there’s enough money to justify paying a former Commissioner $3.3 million more than three years after he retired, there’s more than enough money for the players and owners to share.