ORLANDO, Fla. -- Mark Murphy was hustling through a hotel lobby Sunday afternoon in a full suit and tie. The NFL's owners meeting doesn't formally begin until Monday, but Murphy's role as a member of the Management Council Executive Committee will make him a busy man this week.
Murphy, the Packers' president/CEO, is one of 10 owners handling negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association. Meetings were underway Sunday, hours after Murphy arrived in town.
"This is the most important issue facing the league and certainly the Packers as well," Murphy said. "It's taken a lot of my time, especially with my role. We need to get an agreement that works for everybody, and the fans, and the game."
As the urgency of this issue grows, I think we're going to hear more about Murphy's role, the Packers' finances and how those two dynamics interplay. The union has been inspecting the franchise's open financial books, a byproduct of its public ownership, and already NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has been quoting the Packers' profit levels in public forums.
Which brings us to this awkward, if not difficult, dilemma: With owners claiming financial distress, will the Packers' every move devolve into a CBA-related issue?
"We're unique in that way," Murphy said. "[But] at the end of the day, we're still going to do what's in the best interest of the Packers [in the] long-term."
Recently, that approach has led to market-level contract extensions for safety Nick Collins, nose tackle Ryan Pickett, left tackle Chad Clifton and right tackle Mark Tauscher. No one who follows the Packers would consider the moves excessive or unnecessary. At the same time, Murphy knows the union will be keeping a close eye on his expenditures and how they affect the Packers' bottom line.
A sample argument from the union's perspective: If NFL owners are truly in financial distress, why did the Packers commit upwards of $70 million for a group of players? And what will it say if the Packers make a profit in 2010? Can the rest of the NFL's owners, whose books are closed, still claim anguish?
It's not a fair position for the Packers to be in. After all, Murphy said, the Packers "are by far the smallest-market team in the league. But we're not a small-revenue team."
That means the Packers should be able to re-sign players without fear of their football moves becoming fodder in the CBA debate.
I asked Murphy if his recent signing spree will leave the Packers with a higher payroll in 2010. Here's what he said:
"We have a budget, but I'm not going to get into specifics. For us, in a lot of ways, it's similar to what we've always done. We're trying to lock up and extend our key players."
To be continued.