As NBA free agency continues, NFL players continue to gripe about how much more money NBA players make. Setting aside the inherent differences between the sports, the money paid to NFL players flows directly from the deal they’ve done at the bargaining table.
So if NFL players want more money, they need to cut a better deal.
That’s far easier said than done, for one very significant reason: NFL players don’t want to miss game checks. To get truly meaningful change, NFL players would have to miss a full season.
Ever since the failed strike of 1987, a sense has lingered that NFL players won’t sacrifice money and the ability to play football to improve the broader financial circumstances for themselves and, ultimately, for the next generation of NFL players. The 2011 lockout ended in large part because the players didn’t want to miss game checks, accepting the best financial offer that the owners had put on the table, along with plenty of favorable non-financial terms that resulted in reduced offseason programs and less intense training-camp and regular-season practices.
With four years left on the current labor deal, owners aren’t complaining about it — and all that that implies. If players want a better deal the next time around, they need to start planning for it now.
And here’s the key, which we’ve mentioned before but with players beginning to realize the connection between what they individually make and what they’ve collectively agreed to earn merits a reiteration: The players need to begin laying the foundation for an alternative way to generate revenue, if they get locked out by the owners or if the players launch a strike.
The best alternative way to generate revenue will be to create a separate league that will stage games on the same Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays that NFL games would have been played. Tentative stadium deals should be put in place, tentative broadcast deals should be negotiated, and the entire business infrastructure should be developed so that the NFLPA can simply flip the switch and stage games if/when it needs to.
None of it should happen in secret, either. To maximize the effectiveness of the strategy, the players need to make sure everyone knows what they’re planning to do, since the mere threat of an alternative league that would capture some of the billions the owners will sacrifice will motivate the NFL to avoid that outcome.
It’s a fair and proper approach for the players, especially since the biggest flaw in the players’ ability to hold firm during a work stoppage is their inability to get paid to play football. While they surely won’t get paid as much, they will earn something in the short term and, more importantly, they will position themselves to earn more in the long term by getting the best possible deal for themselves and the players who will follow them.
And then, a few years from now, maybe NBA players will be complaining during March about all the money NFL players are making in free agency.