Expert panel: What should NFLPA fight for in next labor battle with NFL owners?
The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement doesn’t expire until the spring of 2021, but the owners and NFL Players Association have begun negotiating on the next deal, already meeting on multiple occasions this year.
While the union told its players to prepare for a work stoppage in 2021, the battle appears to be much less contentious than it was last time. The buzz out of the May owners’ meetings was that the negotiations are much friendlier than they were in 2011, and that a new CBA could be agreed to as soon as next offseason.
The CBA is working so well for the owners that they’re pushing hard for the NFL Players Association to extend the deal. But DeMaurice Smith and the NFLPA shouldn’t rubber-stamp the current agreement. While the CBA is working well for the league’s star players, rookies and mid-level veterans have seen their compensation slashed and their careers shortened.
I posed a question to some of the top salary cap/CBA experts covering the NFL to answer a key question (I chimed in, as well):
“Assume you are DeMaurice Smith and the NFLPA negotiators. What are the 1-2 most important things you would fight for in the next CBA?”
Interestingly, none of the answers focused on the subject that gets the most attention from players and media: Fully guaranteed contracts. Nothing is preventing a player from negotiating for one now (see Kirk Cousins), and if fully guaranteed contracts did become a mandate, owners would only simply readjust and sign players to one- and two-year deals.
Now to the answers:
Ben Volin: Changing the rule that prevents drafted rookies from renegotiating their contracts until after their third season. This rule, in addition to the rookie wages being slashed, has been awful for both rookies and veterans. Rookies who outperform their contracts are unable to capitalize on their market value until after three years (and most have to wait four years). My go-to example for this is Russell Wilson, who won the Super Bowl in his second season, yet was forced to play the next season at $662,000. The Seahawks couldn’t have paid him more even if they had wanted to.
The middle class of veterans is also getting squeezed out of the league by the incredible value of rookies. But if drafted rookies could renegotiate their contracts after two years, it would tip the scales back in favor of the moderately priced veteran, in addition to helping star rookies get paid sooner.
Jason Fitzgerald, OverTheCap.com: One of the main focuses I would have would be on reducing the length of rookie contracts for draft picks. If we are looking to benefit the players of the future, there is no better way than changing the terms of how one gets to unrestricted free agency. Teams make decisions pretty quickly on players these days — the argument that it takes three years to develop a player is just a talking point. Teams play younger talent, and then drop them once they hit 28 or 29 years old.
I would try to drop everything back one more year: Four-year contracts for first-round picks, three years for Rounds 2-7, and two years for undrafted players. Ultimately that would make many players more desirable in free agency, leading to bigger contracts and guaranteed salaries.
The second thing I might focus on is an increase in the minimum wage. The majority of NFL players play for a minimum salary. The NFL only allows for a $15,000 raise per year in those minimums, and it is more or less the only mandated salary not pegged to the salary cap. Since the 2011 CBA began, the salary cap has grown by slightly over 56 percent, yet minimum salaries have seen hardly any growth.
Had the NFLPA pegged the growth to the cap, players with no experience would earn about $90,000 more in 2019, while veterans would earn nearly $400,000 more per year.
The league can certainly afford it. Teams carried over an average of $10.6 million in cap room in 2019. If teams carried over half of that number, that would be enough for about a $140,000 raise for all those minimum-salaried players.
Teams will always find a way to work with the cap dollars to pay elite talent, but the majority of the NFL has no rights and is missing out. I’d suggest a one-time fix to adjust the numbers for all the salary cap growth, plus an added $50,000.
J.I. Halsell, former agent and Washington Redskins cap analyst: The general elimination of barriers to free agency and contract extensions should be a topic at the top of the list. The obvious barrier is the franchise tag, but I don’t think that the elimination of the tag is the end-all, be-all. Instead, removing the fifth-year option on first-round contracts, reducing non-first-round rookie contracts to three years, and lowering the eligibility for a contract extension from a player’s third season to second season, will all go a long way in getting “deserving” players their lucrative second contract in a more timely manner.
Andrew Brandt, former/current agent, former president, Green Bay Packers: The owners clawed back against the 2006 CBA, which essentially had players on a 50/50 revenue split, to gain a band between 52-54 percent of revenues. Now that the owners have their “reset,” the players should try to get back to a true 50/50 split of all revenues.
The real issue, however, is that no matter how much the cap goes up, it means little if the owners aren’t spending. Two things are troubling from a players’ perspective. First, CBA minimum spending requirements are too low (89 percent of team cap) and over too long an inspection period (four years). Minimum spending requirements of 95-97 percent of team cap judged every one or two years would make a huge difference in player spending, raising guarantees in the process.
Second, teams can carry over cap from year to year with no requirement that (1) they carry over all their remaining cap, or (2) that they spend it. There are teams carrying forward tens of millions of dollars of cap room, only to not spend it and carry it forward the next year. Were that money spent, it would have a dramatic effect on player salaries and player guarantees.
Finally, two areas to watch: (1) distribution of new revenue streams related to sports betting; and (2) treatment and ownership of player biometric data.
BALL OF CONFUSION
New interference rule not so simple
The NFL is trying to make the new rule sound so simple. Instant replay will be used to fix a mistake on a pass interference call only if there is “clear and obvious visual evidence” that a foul did or did not occur. It will only be pass interference if there is an act that “significantly hinders” an opponent’s attempt at the football. And in the final two minutes of each half, a “stricter criteria” will be used for automatic booth reviews, “to prevent excessive game stoppages.”
Except this new rule, approved by the owners in March and finalized in writing earlier this month, will be anything but simple in application.
This rule was intended to fix the error from the NFC Championship game, but is only going to create more controversy. The key parts of the rule — “clear and obvious,” “significantly hinders,” and “stricter criteria” — are completely subjective.
There is no greater example of this than Stephon Gilmore’s pass breakup against Brandin Cooks late in this past February’s Super Bowl. In real time, the play looked clean, and no penalty was called. But director of officiating Al Riveron is using this play as a prime example of a play that would now be penalized for defensive pass interference upon video review.
Did Gilmore “significantly hinder” Cooks on the play? Riveron says yes. John Parry, the referee from the Super Bowl who now is a rules analyst for ESPN, disagrees.
“Is there contact? Yes. Enough to significantly hinder? No,” he told Sports Illustrated this past week. “I think most back judges would pass on that . . . And as I understand it as of this morning, they are going to be technical, letter-of-the-law, slow-motion, freeze-frame, multi-angles . . . It’s Pandora’s box that they’ve opened.”
This rule has many unintended consequences. The end of an NFL game could resemble the end of an NBA game — endless replay reviews and timeouts that ruin the flow of the game. Riveron will drive fans and teams hopping mad if he applies a frame-by-frame, slow-motion standard of review. And because Riveron can now put a flag on the field for a missed call — the whole reason for the rule in the first place — just wait for the howls from players and media the first time Riveron checks instant replay to review a defensive pass interference, but finds offensive pass interference instead. Riveron found such a play from last year’s Chiefs-Chargers game in Week 15.
Thankfully, the rule was approved on a one-year trial basis. Let’s keep an open mind and see how it unfolds. But the rule looks like it will only create more controversy than it solves.
Brady deserving of a better ranking
In a slow sports week, one of the biggest topics around town was Chris Simms ranking Tom Brady as No. 9 and Drew Brees No. 10 in his top 40 quarterback rankings at Pro Football Talk. Like most Bostonians, I first assumed Simms was either trolling Patriots fans or doesn’t know what he’s watching on Sundays.
But then I started digging into Brady’s numbers a little bit, and if we’re going to be honest:
■ Brady was 12th in passer rating last year;
■ And 13th in yards per attempt;
■ And 18th in completion percentage;
■ And 12th in fourth-quarter passer rating;
■ And he had passer ratings of 77.1 and 71.4 in the AFC Championship game and Super Bowl;
■ And he threw one interception in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship game, and should have thrown the losing interception inside the final minute, but was saved by Dee Ford.
Obviously, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Football is mostly about team success, and no one tops Brady there. He came through in the clutch in overtime of the AFC Championship game, and in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. And he didn’t have the most dynamic weapons surrounding him by the end of the season.
But when also factoring in Brady’s age (42 in August), it’s not crazy to rank Brady behind Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, and Deshaun Watson. I’d probably rank Brady fifth right now, behind Mahomes, Wilson, Luck, and Rodgers. But with Brady coming off a slightly down year stats-wise, I wouldn’t quibble too much with anyone who wants to rank Brady seventh.
Ranking Brady behind Cam Newton and Matt Ryan is preposterous.
No one can blame restless Brissett
Few would blame Jacoby Brissett for being a little restless in his situation as Andrew Luck’s backup. After playing in 16 games and throwing for more than 3,000 yards in 2017, Brissett threw just four passes in 2018 as Luck returned from a shoulder injuy.
But even though the Colts don’t have a huge need for a backup quarterback, they don’t seem interested in giving up Brissett, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. They turned down at least one trade offer last year, from Seattle.
“It’s impossible for me to have a higher opinion of Jacoby than I do,” Colts coach Frank Reich said this past week, via 1070 The Fan. “I think he’s a top-20 quarterback. I still say that. After watching him for a year, this guy’s really good. I tell Chris [Ballard] all the time, ‘Please don’t let him go. I don’t care what anybody offers him. Don’t let him go.’ I love Jacoby. The problem is now I’ve gotten to know Jacoby and, at some point, I hope that it works out for Jacoby. But not now.”
The Patriots may have had to give up on Jimmy Garoppolo, but they blew it with Brissett, trading him at the start of the 2017 season (when Bill Belichick thought he’d be keeping Garoppolo long term and had no use for Brissett as a third quarterback). Brissett would have looked great as Tom Brady’s backup right now. He would have been entering his fourth year in the Patriots’ system, and we’d be talking about the Patriots trying to lock up Brissett long term so he could take the torch whenever Brady retires. Brissett could always come back to New England, but this is one quarterback they shouldn’t have let get away.
The future of the NFL’s Mexico City game already was in jeopardy following last year’s field debacle, which led to the league and local government putting their three-year contract extension on hold. Now comes word that the Mexican government is cutting back on subsidies for hosting sporting events — further evidence that this year’s Chiefs-Chargers game could be the last one for a while in Mexico City. “The decision does not depend on us. We will not have resources for that game of football,” tourism official Miguel Torruco told AS.com. “It would be good if [the event] stayed, but it is a reality that we do not have a budget for the following year.” . . . Nice job by the Miami Dolphins, who along with Baptist Health South Florida will buy all necessary equipment for Miami Edison High’s football team after a fire broke out in the school’s field house last weekend. The fire, whose cause is unknown, destroyed blocking dummies, pads, sleds, down markers, and other equipment . . . Congrats to Willie McGinest, who was added to the board of directors at USA Football, the sport’s national governing body that “partners with leaders in medicine, child advocacy, and athletics to support positive football experiences for youth, high school, and other amateur players.” . . . Former Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio really wants us to know that he had nothing to do with drafting quarterback Blaine Gabbert with the 10th pick in 2011. “In fact, I left to go get something to eat because our pick wasn’t for much longer in the draft,” he told ESPN 690 in Jacksonville this past week. “And then I’m sitting there filling my plate thinking, ‘Oh great, we’ve got a couple more hours until we pick.’ Then I see, ‘The Jaguars are on the clock.’ I’m like, ‘What the blank is going on?’ I walk into the draft room, and I could see it on the faces of the people in the room. They knew how uncomfortable that was, how wrong that was.”
The Packers are planning a big birthday party for training camp. The franchise is celebrating its 100th birthday on Aug. 11, holding a variety of public events and activities at Lambeau Field and the Packers Experience.