A year ago at this time, NFL fans were focused on courts rather than fields as the lockout was in full swing following a hearing in a Minnesota federal court.
Everyone can agree: Thank goodness that’s long over.
But the question that continues to loom - and likely will for some time - is, did the game even need the lockout, which was triggered when the NFL Players Association walked out of federal mediation March 11, 2011?
Because the way things are going, the players look like they didn’t gain anything. In fact, it appears they’re losing money - some $652 million over the next three seasons.
Domonique Foxworth, who was elected NFLPA president last month and was a key part of the union’s negotiating team, said he’s content with the deal he helped craft.
“I can’t speak for individual players; I’m really happy,’’ Foxworth said last week at Harvard. “You forget where you were. You start looking to the future to get something new, which is our nature; we always want to get better. So I expect our players to expect more from us. But frankly, I think the gains in health and safety, it not only does things for our players’ health but it trickles down and protects younger players.’’
That’s all well and good, but the NFL was not putting up a fight on any of the safety issues, nor stepped up contributions to player and retiree benefits. The NFL needed to do better in these areas for public relations. And they were all a part of the league’s final proposal to the union before executive director DeMaurice Smith decided the players would do better in court.
The battle over the new collective bargaining agreement was always about money. And the owners, who said the league couldn’t continue to give players 50 cents of every dollar, look like they’re winning handily through at least 2015.
According to the statements of many team owners and reports from Sports Business Journal, Yahoo!, and profootballtalk.com, which have been confirmed by league sources, the NFL management council informed owners at the league meetings that the salary cap will remain flat through 2015, and then increase incrementally.
Not only does that run counter to what the NFLPA told agents at their annual meeting at the scouting combine - they were told the cap would explode in 2014 when the new television money was due to hit - but it falls way short of what the NFL offered the union before the lockout started.
After making statements to the television cameras, Smith walked into a conference room at NFLPA headquarters and handed the assembled print media financial details of the NFL’s final offer - which he would later term “the worst deal in the history of sports.’’
Smith was right about that in at least one respect. The NFL wanted the salary cap (excluding benefits) to be $114 million in 2011. That would have been a drastic cut from the $123 million it was in 2009, the previous capped year.
After the new CBA was struck, the ’11 salary cap was $120.4 million. So the union gained $204.8 million in salary across 32 teams in the first year alone from what the NFL proposed.
Then the deal appears to go off a cliff for the players.
The NFL offered a cap of $121 million in ’12 - it will be $120.6 million. That’s a loss of $12.8 million for the players.
In ’13, the NFL’s proposed cap was $128 million. If the actual cap stays flat at $121 million, that’s a loss of $224 million.
The proposed ’14 cap was $134 million. If the actual number is again at $121 million, players will have lost $416 million in a year they expect to strike it rich.
That’s $652.8 million lost in the final three years - $448 million if the gains in ’11 are included.
And if 2015 also remains flat, the players will have lost more than a billion dollars from 2012-15.
Surely players and agents are going to be upset if this comes to pass.
“I can’t speak to what the owners were speaking to down there,’’ Foxworth said. “Honestly, next week is when I’m going to go crunch all the numbers with our lawyers and figure out the true cap projections, so it’s hard for me [to comment]. I really wish I could give you some definitive answer but one thing I know is the NFL isn’t getting less popular, so I don’t think that anyone is in danger, from owners or the players’ side, going bankrupt any time soon.’’
The biggest reason the union got fed up over the negotiations was that the NFL refused to link the cap to the actual revenue generated by the league each year. That was an important issue to the NFLPA, and it ended up getting an annual linkage. The players now get 55 percent of league media, 45 percent of NFL ventures, and 40 percent of local revenues. In total, the NFLPA was guaranteed to receive an average of 47 percent of total revenue over the life of the CBA.
“One thing that we did do that I’m proud of is for the first time we linked our revenue to actual revenue,’’ Foxworth said. “It’s hard to project what’s going to happen out in the future but no one is going to be upset because the only way the cap could be flat is if revenue is flat. So it’s hard to be [ticked] that you’re not getting more money if more money is not coming in. That was one of the smarter decisions that was made during that.’’
Maybe the lockout will eventually be worth it for that, but it’s not doing them much good now.
Part of the problem is that when the union and NFL sat down and did the linkage for the 2012 salary cap, the number came out around $114 million, according to reports, and to get the cap up to $120.6 million, the NFLPA had to borrow against future caps.
Foxworth wouldn’t confirm those reports. He did, however, look as puzzled as anyone about the cap being flat through 2015.
“I’m being careful not to say anything, but I think anyone with a brain in their head thinks that the NFL is going to continue to be lucrative,’’ Foxworth said.
Now, it’s certainly possible that the NFL doesn’t have its numbers right into the future. But one thing we now know is that the numbers the NFL used before the lockout - which the NFLPA derided - have turned out to be correct. So much for the NFLPA’s cry that the NFL was cooking the books. It has the books now. They’re right. And the players are coming up short.
So right now, the NFL’s numbers are the leaders in the clubhouse. We’ll see if they’re knocked down, and whether the players stand to make a bundle from 2016 to 2020 to offset the losses in the near term. They had better.
Right now, it looks like the players lost in the deal, and the whole nightmare of a lockout was really unnecessary.
BACK TO SCHOOL
Foxworth is all business
Foxworth, who is a free agent cornerback after having his contract terminated by the Ravens, was part of an interesting discussion at the Harvard Graduate School of Education about, “What schools can learn from the NFL.’’
Foxworth, whose wife graduated from Harvard Law School, is set to become an applicant to Harvard Business School.
“I have to send it in so they can send it back and say no,’’ he joked.
Foxworth got the idea to apply after participating in the CBA negotiations, where he worked closely and drew the admiration of Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
“After the negotiations, I kind of realized that I’m better at this than I thought,’’ Foxworth said. “I always had an interest in going to business school. Mr. Kraft actually had a lot to do with it. I’ve talked to him a lot lately. I talked to him [Monday] before I came over here. He encouraged me and I think he along with other people recognized the talent that I had for things other than running into people. It only lasts for so long.’’
As for being elected to succeed Kevin Mawae as NFLPA president, Foxworth is looking to widen the players’ economic reach through endorsement deals for the NFLPA.
“We haven’t been able to monetize and capitalize on our true value,’’ Foxworth said. “While the NFL does a great job of capitalizing on the official soft drink of the NFL, we don’t do a good job of that. That’s one of my big drives, and also to get players more involved.’’
Foxworth said he had not heard any discussion about the union informing players involved in the Saints’ bounty scandal to be ready for criminal prosecution. But he did say the NFLPA will be there for them.
“Obviously, this is a very delicate issue for a number of different reasons,’’ Foxworth said. “No matter what the issue is, our mission remains the same: to protect players past, present, and future. We’re going to do that.’’
Foxworth couldn’t say why the union did not have a problem with the NFL stripping the Redskins and Cowboys of $46 million in cap space the next two seasons.
“It’s a simple issue and right now I think the Redskins and Cowboys are filing suit, so we’ll kind of let that shake down how it shakes down, and whatever the decision is we’ll be behind it,’’ he said.
INTERIM SAINTS COACH
Spagnuolo gets a vote
When commissioner Roger Goodell rules on the bounty appeals and likely upholds all the suspensions he issued, most expect Bill Parcells to step in as Saints interim coach for Sean Payton, who is facing a season-long suspension.
But Vikings defensive line coach Brendan Daly, who was a part of the Harvard panel, thinks that Grafton native Steve Spagnuolo would do just fine if the Saints decided to go that route.
Daly coached under Spagnuolo in his three years as Rams head coach. Spagnuolo agreed to become Saints defensive coordinator after being fired by St. Louis.
“I think he’d do a fantastic job for them,’’ said Daly, who is in his second stint with the Vikings (2006-08). “I really enjoyed working for him, the players responded to him well. I think he did a tremendous job with the players, and I think it would be a great situation for both of them. As a head coach, I think he would do a great job. And I think he probably will be a head coach again.’’
Daly’s description of Spagnuolo’s attitude as a head coach would seem to fit with the turmoil the Saints are sure to endure. “He’s a glass is half-full guy at all times and he has a great way of remaining positive no matter how adverse the situation goes,’’ Daly said. “He doesn’t ride the emotional roller coaster. He’s a straight shooter, he tells it how it is, he doesn’t get too high when things are good, he doesn’t get too low when things are bad, which I think [is] critical to success.’’
Spagnuolo took over a Rams team that went 1-15 in his first season in 2009, and improved to 7-9 - with a chance to win the NFC West in the final game - the following season. The Rams fell to 2-14 under an avalanche of injuries before Spagnuolo was fired.
“I do think he did a great job and we had a good staff there and there are some decent players to build on,’’ Daly said.
Sapp likely losing TV job
Warren Sapp’s employment with the NFL Network is likely over, according to two league sources.
Sapp has not been on the network since the week of his tweets and on-air comments that labeled tight end Jeremy Shockey as the “snitch’’ in the Saints bounty scandal - something Roger Goodell said was not true.
Sapp’s next on-air appearance has not been determined, according to a source. Sapp recently filed for bankruptcy, according to TMZ.com, and the documents said his NFL Network contract, which pays him $540,000 annually, expires in August. Sapp’s contract is not expected to be renewed, a league source said. A network spokesman said discipline is an internal matter and wouldn’t confirm Sapp’s status.
Cassel gets some backing
The Chiefs pursued Peyton Manning, which put the future of starting quarterback Matt Cassel in doubt. The team never should have done that, according to Chiefs guard Ryan Lilja, who was Manning’s teammate with the Colts from 2004-09.
“We’ve got a great quarterback,’’ Lilja told the Kansas City Star. “We’ve just got to do better things around him to make him a great quarterback. I truly believe that, and I wish some more people believed that. It’s really easy to criticize. I get that. That’s part of the job. But Matt’s the guy, and Matt’s going to take us places. Matt’s a general in the huddle. People don’t see how hard he works. They don’t see the stuff he plays through, because we don’t talk about it. But take my word for it: There aren’t many guys I’d rather play with.’’
Lilja initially turned down interview requests when the Chiefs showed interest in Manning. “I think I should have defended Matt at that point,’’ Lilja said. “People forget really, really quickly what Matt did two years ago. He was in Hawaii [to play in the Pro Bowl]. He’s our guy, and I’m proud to play with him. I’ve had to defend him to people all over town, and that drives me crazy. I hate to hear people criticize him.’’
1. I do think some of Gregg Williams’s taped pregame speech, which was released this week, was taken out of context - some of the head references were just another, more violent way of saying stop the No. 1 option of the 49ers’ offense, namely running back Frank Gore. But the physical reference to money and the specific injury references to Kevin Williams and Michael Crabtree were truly sickening.
2. Wonder how many more “Free Sean Payton’’ rallies they’ll have in New Orleans after that? He’s the head coach and his assistants are his responsibility, especially after Payton assigned assistant head coach Joe Vitt to monitor Williams. Payton and Vitt essentially painted Williams as a rogue coach during their appeal. Please. Payton could have fired Williams and replaced him with Vitt at any time. They did not, so they’re guilty by acquiescence.
3. Every time someone suggests no team will ever hire Williams again for fear of a public outcry, I imagine the Patriots hiring him. Williams would never have to speak to the media, Bill Belichick would easily dismiss the questions, and what fans are going to take issue with Belichick’s decision to the point that it affects anything the team does?
4. There was a debate last week on whether Wonderlic IQ scores of draft prospects should be publicized. I have no problem with it if the score is used in proper context: a small piece of a prospect’s scouting report. It should never be used as a headline or for a basis of a story, like profootballtalk.com did when it derided LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne for getting a 4. Just like a bad 40-yard time sends scouts scurrying back to the tape, a bad Wonderlic score has scouts checking with college coaches. Most often it meshes, sometimes it doesn’t. Vince Wilfork got a 10 and no one would question his football smarts.
5. I thought Wes Welker would have a new contract by now. But even if he doesn’t get one and decides not to report to offseason workouts, it’s a non-story for me. If there’s any player who doesn’t need that baby-sitting time, it’s Welker.
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.