League, NFLPA fighting over 2009 cap space

Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Daily pointed out last week that the league and the NFLPA will be meeting tomorrow to continue, at the pace of a legally intoxicated three-legged turtle, the efforts to hammer out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The next meeting will occur with a new legal fight unfolding in the background.

Per a league source, the union filed last week a grievance pursuant to the current CBA’s “Special Master” protocol, which places all disputes requiring an interpretation of the CBA in the hands of Stephen Burbank.

The dispute focuses on the league’s intended procedure for allocating against the 2009 salary cap guaranteed base salaries appearing in the fifth and six seasons of a first-round rookie contract.

Setting aside for now (and possibly forever) the legal mumbo-jumbo, here’s the upshot of the fight.  The league’s interpretation would give teams a way to chew up 2009 cap space with money that might never be spent.  The union’s interpretation would result in lower cap charges in 2009.

In past years, many of the 32 teams would prefer to follow the union’s approach, since in past years many of the 32 teams were constantly trying to stay on the right side of the annual spending limit.

In 2009, the last capped year under the current labor deal, the vast majority of teams are residing comfortably below the spending limit; indeed, some might have to spend a good bit to satisfy the annual spending minimum.

So most teams would love to burn up some cap space via money that won’t be paid, if at all, for several years.  It helps to satisfy the salary floor, and it indirectly helps to create the impression that the teams aren’t being as cheap when it comes to player wages as reality might otherwise suggest.

A ruling is expected before training camps open; however, the fact that the unresolved dispute even exists could delay the process of getting first-round picks under contract.