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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell discusses how the current economy has affected the NFL.
“ When the iceberg pokes its head, you have to make a course correction, and that's where we are right now. ” -- Private Sports Consulting's Max Muhleman, referring to the spate of NFL layoffs and cutbacks in light of the nation's economic woesGoodell voluntarily took the cut from the $11 million in salary and bonuses he was scheduled to receive in fiscal year 2008, which ends March 31. Salaries for all remaining league employees have been frozen for 2009. Expenses at the league office have been cut by 20 percent in a process that started this past summer. "There's tremendous uncertainty about the economy,'' NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "There is no way to know what is going to happen in the future. It's going to take a collective sacrifice across the league to get through this.'' But why are the league and teams freezing salaries, firing secretaries and seamstresses and counting paper clips while the teams have committed $115 million to the 14 players designated with the franchise tag? "When the iceberg pokes its head, you have to make a course correction, and that's where we are right now," said Private Sports Consulting's Max Muhleman, a veteran sports marketing executive who has done work for about 15 teams and the league office. He is widely credited as the inventor of the personal seat license. "I think there have been ice patches out there for years because there long has been a question of how to balance the increasing costs for fans in line with the increasing cost of players. Now, you throw in a recession, and all that ice becomes one very big iceberg. You'd like to say teams could make one big change in course and not pay those big salaries to players. But they can't, and they are forced to trim in the areas where they can control costs." It seems the players are not feeling many, if any, effects. As much as we hear about the NFL's salary cap ($123 million for the 2009 season), there is a tendency to forget there also is a floor for player salaries. In 2009, every NFL team has to have at least $107 million count toward the salary cap, and that's why low-wage office workers are the ones taking the fall. Currently, about 60 percent of team revenues are required to be paid to players.
“ I just had a player with 61 runs from scrimmage receive a franchise tag that pays him as much as LaDainian Tomlinson. Doesn't sound like anybody's scared about the economy to give him 6.6 million bucks. ” -- Agent Gary Wichard, referring to a client, Chargers running back Darren SprolesEven with that relatively limited wiggle room in player salaries, there still is a question whether teams will try to save a few million on players when the free-agency period starts at 12:01 a.m. ET Friday. "I just had a player with 61 runs from scrimmage receive a franchise tag that pays him as much as LaDainian Tomlinson,'' agent Gary Wichard said of San Diego Chargers running back Darren Sproles. "Doesn't sound like anybody's scared about the economy to give him 6.6 million bucks." "I would have thought with the way things are going with the economy that it might hold people back a little bit, but I think the last few days have proven that is not right," San Francisco 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan said. The coming days of free agency might prove that perception even more correct -- or maybe there will be some hesitancy. Maybe the heavy use of the franchise tag is a sign teams are worried about the economy, and maybe the resulting salaries aren't as gaudy as they might seem. It might be a practical measure. "Not many [long-term] deals are getting done, right?" Seattle Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell said. "So, in terms of what the agents believe is happening or going to happen, is different than what the clubs believe, so we have this divide right now, and teams are protecting their guys any way that they possibly can."
|Commissioner Roger Goodell voluntarily has taken a cut of 20 to 25 percent from the $11 million salary and bonuses he was to receive in the 2008 fiscal year.|
|If Chargers back Darren Sproles (pictured), LaDainian Tomlinson's backup, can net a $6.6M contract for next season, how bad are NFL teams' coffers, Sproles' agent wonders.|
“ The CBA negotiation is going to become a real poker game. We could see holdouts, lockouts and even see pro sports, as we know them, stop altogether for several years. ” -- Max MuhlemanThat subject is the collective bargaining agreement. Team owners opted out of the current deal last spring. As it stands now, the 2010 season will be played with no salary cap. A lockout in 2011 is possible. NFLPA president Gene Upshaw died in August and has not been replaced on a full-time basis. Both sides have been tight lipped about any talks about a new deal, but there are no signs any agreement is close to happening. "The NFL has been strong for years, and that may put it in a better position to weather the economy than baseball, hockey or the NBA,'' Muhleman said. "But the economic situation is putting a whole new light on the CBA negotiation. It doesn't take a visionary to see the position of league is, 'Hey, we're all in this together. We're going to have to tighten belts, and you're going to have to take some hits, too.' That's a very difficult negotiation because, no matter who ends up sitting on the other side of the table, it's his job to get players more money, and I sure can't see him going back to players and asking them to take less money." Then again, with the economic storm swirling, it might come to something like that. The layoffs of the PR guys and staff around the league might be something players want to look consider. "The bottom line is, if somebody decides not to pay you, you're not going to have a job," Muhleman said. "I don't think that occurs to these guys because they've always been insulated from that. But the horizon is changing, and it might change more than we could ever imagine if the economy doesn't bounce back soon. It's a percolating, bubbling issue for the entire world. But, for sports fans, the big issue might not be bank failures. It might be that pro leagues could have to shut down the current model. "The CBA negotiation is going to become a real poker game. We could see holdouts, lockouts and even see pro sports, as we know them, stop altogether for several years. At that point, I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility to throw out the model and just start all over. That could cause a lot of pain for owners, fans and players. Will it come to a point where you see [Terrell Owens] delivering pizza? No, but maybe popcorn." Pat Yasinskas covers the NFL for ESPN.com. ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert, Tim Graham, Bill Williamson, Paul Kuharsky and Mike Sando contributed to this report.