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Thursday, March 5, 2009

NFL CBA: Problems Looming

One of my greatest passions in my sports life is the Minnesota Vikings, and by extension the NFL in general. As such, i tend to follow things in the NFL pretty closely, especially issues that have the possibility of greatly affecting the game as we know it. One such issue, that i believe is not getting near enough exposure, is the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations between the NFL Players Association (NFLPA or Union) and the owners.

I've detailed the actual negotiations and what the issues will be here and here, as well as what the untimely passing of Gene Upshaw means for the negotiations here and here. I've also wrote about how the StarCaps suspensions/court cases coming up will affect the negotiations here. All this is to say that i feel this is a very important issue as well as something i am keeping a very close eye on.

I'm writing this article to focus on what perhaps will be the most important issue facing the NFLPA heading into the negotiations with the owners: Who their leader will be.

With the passing of Gene Upshaw almost a year ago, the NFLPA appointed Titans Center Kevin Mawae as interim president, with the knowledge they would be electing a new president in their winter meetings, which begin next week in Hawaii. Since that time, the selection process has been narrowed down to three names: Former players Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong, both of whom have served as Union President in the past, and lawyer DeMaurice Smith.

As stated in the story above, the reason for Smith's inclusion on the final ballot is more or less a fail safe; There are growing concerns the NFLPA will split on which former player to elect as union head. In that event, Smith will be looked at as a sort of impartial party. That fact alone underscores not only the seriousness of the process, but also the problems plaguing it. Vincent has been mired in controversy since almost the moment he was mentioned as a candidate, having been accused of lobbying for the job, and recruiting congressman to write letters on his behalf (without specifically mentioning him) that raised questions on the integrity of the process.

So, how does all this affect the actual CBA negotiations, which will be taking place later this summer? Well, it means everything. If the NFLPA comes to a quick, majority decision on their new head and comes out looking strong and together, they are in good shape for the negotiations. If, however, the NFLPA has trouble picking a new leader, is split on the decision, and comes out fighting within itself and fractured (as many think is very possible), the negotiations are in big, big trouble.

As i mentioned in my previous article about the steroid suspension and the CBA, any little thing that either the NFLPA or the owners can jump on and take advantage of, they will. If the Union is fractured, suddenly the owners go into the negotiations looking to 'win' instead of just compromise. With that attitude they are likely to upset the NFLPA, causing a stall in the negotiations.

And just as a reminder, if the NFLPA and the owners cannot come to an agreement and get a new CBA in place before the 2010 season, that season will be an uncapped year. What that means is that for that season, there will be no salary cap, much like how MLB operates. If the NFL goes one year without a cap, it will be very, very, very hard to ever get a salary cap back in place. That would be very bad for the NFL.

I know i harp on it a lot, but please pay attention next week to the NFLPA meetings, not just for who they elect, but how they get elected and how the Union comes out of the meetings. The NFL as we currently know it is in the balance...

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