Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Tuck's Rules: A plan to end the lockout
By Ross Tucker ESPN.com
That's it. I can't handle it anymore, so I am taking matters into my own hands. Even though the two sides in the NFL lockout supposedly are making progress, the confidential nature of those talks means none of us knows how close the two sides really are.
Have a question for Ross Tucker? Connect with him here. He may answer your question in a mailbag column.
It is time to take a commonsense approach to solving this thing, one anybody can understand. That's why I've come up with a four-point plan I think both parties should be able to live with. Yes, the real thing would be a little more complicated than this and include a few more numbers, but the framework of the deal should look like this:
1. The players need to "give back" a decent amount of money. Money is the big sticking point in these negotiations. It always is. The owners say their profits are going down, and even though I would like to see greater financial transparency on their part, I do believe that they are no longer getting a return on their investment that they deem reasonable or sufficient.
The players have received a little more than 50 percent of every dollar of revenue the past five years and have said they would be willing to split it right down the middle. That's not going to get it done.
I propose the players receiving 47.5 to 48 percent of the revenue. On a projected $10 billion in revenue, they would be giving up a significant amount of money, about $200 to $250 million. That amounts to between $6.25 and $7.81 million per team.
That give back, however, comes with a caveat. All of that money must be earmarked to go back into the business and growth of the game and not directly into the owners' bank accounts. The owners have said that the problem with their supposedly declining profits is that the decline makes them less likely to invest money to grow the game. Well, here is that money. Problem solved.
2. The salary floor needs to be raised. The players' smaller percentage would effectively lower each team's salary cap below what the players would want it to be. One step toward appeasing them would be to raise the corresponding salary floor, above which each team must spend.
Football Today Podcast
Ross Tucker and Matt Williamson cover the latest developments in the NFL's labor dispute with Jason Reimer. Plus, emails on the best QBs and playing surfaces. Listen
In 2009, the last year the NFL had a salary-cap system in place, the cap was set at about $124 million per team in salary and bonuses. The floor was approximately $108 million, so the spread was $16 million. Let's make the disparity between the two numbers only $10 million.
So, even though the cap would be $6 to $7 million less than what the players want, they will make some of that money back by having the floor raised. No team would be able to spend more than, say, $125 million, but they would all have to spend at least $115 million.
The benefit of this for the fans is that there would be less of a gap in spending between the high-revenue teams and the low-revenue teams, which should lead to the competitive balance the league so covets. Now, the owners would have to come up with a revenue-sharing system among themselves that they can all live with, but that's not my problem or the players' problem. That's on them.
In that same vein, the total number of the salary cap would be much higher than the $125 million that is spent on salary and bonuses because there is a benefit component for current and retired players that the owners fund as well. Just as the revenue-sharing system is the owners' problem, how to divvy up the money between present salary/bonuses and future benefits, including increased benefits for retired players, is a problem the players would have to figure out.
The cap and floor, by the way, would be representative of a "cash" cap, meaning actual dollars spent. No accounting tricks would be allowed to get teams to the spending floor.
3. Make three-year deals for rookies part of the rookie wage scale. The owners don't just want to spend less money on players, they also want to feel more comfortable about the money they do spend. That means a rookie wage scale that reins in the obscene amounts of guaranteed money being given to first-round draft choices, especially those taken in the top 10. Think JaMarcus Russell and, more recently, Vernon Gholston.
Vernon Gholston, a defensive end at Ohio State, did not transition well to outside linebacker.
The players are on board and recognize that giving oodles of guaranteed money to players based on college performance is not in the best interests of the game. They also realize that whatever money does not go to rookie players could be available to the veterans who have proved themselves on the field.
For that reason, they are willing to sacrifice the top 10 picks and the large sums of money they have been receiving, but only if they are able to give those same rookies a faster path toward recouping that money in a big second contract. That's why three-year contracts for rookies across the board would be ideal. The No. 1 overall pick would receive about $15 million over those three seasons.
The owners wouldn't like that, but they should know how they feel about a player after three seasons. Just take a look at the 2008 draft right now. Anyone could go through the picks and know whether the team would want to extend the player or let him leave. For those few whose status might still be a little unclear, teams could offer a one-year contract that reflects that uncertainty. Some teams would even extend a player after his second year if it became clear that the team wanted that player to be a core member of the team.
4. Add a 17th game and an extra bye week. For this proposal to work, both sides would have to recognize that the total revenue coming into the league must continue to grow. If the pie increases significantly, the players won't be hurt nearly as much by taking a smaller percentage.
One way to do this would be to add more games. Another way would be to grow the game internationally. Let's do both.
Instead of going to 18 games, which the owners prefer, let's add only one game. Along with that extra game, in part to pacify the players, we would add an additional bye week and subtract a preseason game.
That would mean 17 regular-season games and three preseason games, which should still be enough for the rookies and young players trying to make the team to be able to show what they've got. The added bye week would mean 19 weeks of regular-season TV inventory, or two more than the 17 we have now. That equals huge money -- additional money the league doesn't get right now -- for the players and the owners from the television networks.
As part of the 17 games, each team would still have eight home games and eight away games, plus one neutral-site game. These games would be bid out to different cities to help the NFL grow in new markets both domestically and internationally.
That means several games in Los Angeles, so the city can prove it is worthy of getting an NFL team full time. It probably would include several international games in England, Mexico and Germany, plus an Asian game in Japan or China. There also would be some unique neutral-site opportunities here in the United States. Think about the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles meeting up in the middle of the state to play in front of 110,000 fans at Penn State. The possibilities are endless.
To help fund the league's expenses for putting on these games, the owners can use some of the money the players gave back that has to be put back into the game.
Only time will tell how much of my proposal actually makes it into the new CBA, but the following response I got from an NFLPA player rep involved in these negotiations was encouraging:
"I don't love it, especially giving back the money without any financial justification for doing so, but at the end of the day, the final deal will probably look a lot like what you have proposed," said the player, who preferred to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.
Sounds good to me. Let's send this to Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith and get this thing over with so we can get back to some real football.
From the inbox
Q. I'm always fascinated that as inherently violent as the NFL is, we really don't see many fights and altercations on the field. In fact, I'm always intrigued to watch players on opposing teams occasionally smiling and talking to each other between plays. I was wondering how much over the course of your career you get to know other players in the NFL outside of your own team and about the kind of social interactions players have during the off-season.
Brian from Roseville, Calif.
A. Great question, and something I get asked all the time. The reason you don't see a lot of fights is that nobody wants to get a penalty or, worse yet, a fine from the league office. The explanation for the smiling and talking between plays is twofold. A lot of players played with or against each other in college, so they have relationships dating back to college. Second, there is so much movement within the league as a result of free agency and players getting cut or traded. Often, you used to play with a guy or two on the other side of the ball. During a TV timeout, you might ask about their families. Then, the next play, you try to knock their heads off. Pretty funny, actually, but that's pro football.
Q. Who you would want in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame? If it's me I say the most underrated player ever, Curtis Martin.
Logan from Michigan
A. I don't know if I would say Martin is the most underrated player ever, Logan. That's probably a stretch. He might get in the Hall of Fame someday because so many people already hold him in such high regard. His consistency in his career was amazing. I'd like to see Dermontti Dawson get in. He's the best center I've ever seen and arguably the best of all time. He'll get in.
Q. Awhile back you wrote an excellent article about the 18-game schedule, and since then, I wrote an article proposing how the number of plays in a season could be made to not increase at all in the event of a move to 18 games. I suggested simply keeping the clock running after incomplete passes and during extra-point tries, except in the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the game. If this reduced the number of plays per game, now at roughly 125, by about 14 or so, the total number of plays each team runs in an 18-game season would not go up at all from what each team runs now in a 16-game season! And this has an added, side benefit: The late games can start at 4 p.m. (ET) instead of 4:15, and be over by 7 p.m. (I'm old enough to remember when this nearly always occurred -- before the "no-chuck rule" was passed in 1978).
Anthony from San Francisco
A. I really like this idea, Anthony, because it would cut down on the number of snaps without affecting the actual plays all that much. But I think the NFL and its competition committee would be hesitant to make such a significant change to the game clock. While we're looking at changing the clock, we need to get rid of the college rule that stops the clock after every first down as they move the chains. Those games take forever.
Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams in a seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.