Welcome to another busy week in the NFL and around the business of sport. I am happy to chat about what's going on with Roger Goodell, the bounties, the NHL lockout, the big contracts in baseball and the like.
Andrew, MLB players have it sweet with their guaranteed contracts. In your mind, is there anything that MLB could ever bring to the table to try and negotiate away the guaranteed contracts?
Contract negotiations are always about leverage and precendence. Unfortunately for the owners, the precedence is fully guaranteed contracts and no salary caps. When the MLB owners and players negotiated their CBA a year ago, the owners did not even put the salary cap on the table, knowing it was a non-starter. As to guaranteed contracts, something that's been a part of baseball since free agency began in 1976 and the players continue to use the leverage of the past to help them in the present. It is still amazing to me the numbers that come out in these contracts, knowing the money is fully guaranteed. When you see the $125 million for Josh Hamilton, I'm sure there are protections if he screws up off the field, but if he's hurt or plays poorly, he gets the money. With football, as we all know, no matter the years and money in the contract, they are all really just 1-2 year deals.
Will Goodell survive the fallout from his mishandling the Saints bounty scandal. Can't be a positive for the owners having the players constantly ripping their man
That's obviously a good point and key question that's going on in the commissioner's office right now. I'll say this first: the Tagliabue decision doesn't look good right now for Goodell. It does not exonerate players, nor did he have a problem with what Goodell found as done wrong by the players. Where the two commissioners differed was how it effected discipline on the players. Goodell felt that no matter how the team operated, the players should have discipline and Tagliabue differed. When I read it, I was not surprised, because when I was in the league, Tagliabue always waited for the legal process to play out before issuing discipline. Goodell would discipline relatively quickly.
As to the barbs he's taken from Drew Brees and others, to me that's just part of the job. It's happened with James Harrison and other players. The worst thing he could do is actually engage these players publically. That would do no good, only harm. As for the owners, I bet some of them feel like better him than me, in terms of the shots that he's taking.
Hey Andrew, I'm looking for the ever optimist negotiater update....what are your current thoughts on the progress, well, actually, non-progress, of the NHL talks?
Well, my eternal optimism is certainly being tested in this case with the NHL. I thought we reached a turning point about a week ago when some new owners were put into the process and we seemed to make some progress. The dynamic seems to have changed back to pointing fingers. I will say this and I will probably say it until there's a cancellation of the season, I still don't think that will happen. I still think there will be a season, only because the economic harm on both sides, if it were to happen, seem to point to compromises. One of which could be the length of the CBA, where the owners seemed to be dug in at 10 years. Perhaps there could be an "out" under certain conditions after 5, 6, 7 years. The other big issue seems to be length of individual contracts, trying to limit the amount of years owners give on these deals. The ironic part, of course, is that this is all to protect owners from themselves, as they spent years giving out these contracts that they know want to take back. But, as I do every week, I'll estimate, again, and say that we get resolution before Christmas and the season starts in early January.
Do you think that Expanding the Playoffs in the NFL from 12 Teams to 14 Teams is a Great Idea?
I had mixed reactions when I heard that, because I do think, unlike baseball, basketball and hockey, the NFL has the most important regular season, because there are fewer games and also fewer percentage of teams making the playoffs. The evaluation of the regular season would be my first concern. But when I think about the last few years about what happened in football, the Packers in 2010 and the Giants in 2011 and the Steelers from a few years ago, were able to win the Super Bowl after regular seasons where they just squeaked into the playoffs. When thinking in those terms, it becomes more palatable as you could have teams do that and have more teams in that potential situation. In other words, my initial reaction was negative, but I've come around.
What can be done about the rising price in free agents in baseball besides the obvious of GM's no longer offering huge contracts?
It's an interesting question, because that appears to be a trend, even with the Hamilton contract from yesterday, that baseball GMs are still paying huge average per years, like the $25 million per year for Hamilton, but not extending themselves on 6-7 year contracts that are locked in for such a long term. We've even see the notoriously free spending Yankees give out a couple of big deals on a per year basis, but limiting the number of years. Ultimately, that is one way the baseball owners are cutting their risk, but as you suggest, the numbers keep piling up and free agency continues to create massive contracts for players. I do think that in all sports, especially football, once you get past the first initial wave of big free agent contracts, it becomes a game of musical chairs. The second tier is looking to get in while the money is good and before it runs out. That situation is about to happen in baseball, after the first wave. So, from a management perspective, I do think there is no shortage of contracts that are being handed out that make you shake your head, but management is becoming smarter about middle tier players, in terms of length of contract and amounts offered. In sum, it seems like all sports are moving to star driven pay systems with less of the middle class between the high paid players and the lower tier younger group. The middle class is becoming extinct in free agency.
In regards to the Dez Bryant medical situation, is there, and if there isn't, shouldn't there be, some sort of provision that medical decisions be made by a doctor? In other words, someone who can look at things analytically?
Great question and one that has me raising my eyebrows this week when I read that Dez Bryant was making his own decision about playing. We have reached the point with concussion treatment where we have taken decision making out of any football personnel, players, coaches, management and given it to medical personnel. It seems to me that we should have that mindset for any injury, not just head injuries. When I Tweeted this thought out, many Tweeted back, hey it's just a finger. But I think we face a slipper slope if we start judging who makes decisions on severity and location of the injury. Obviously, Dez Bryant is going to want to play. That's what players do. He may only have 2, 3, 4 more chances to play this year. Having said that, it just seems to me that these have to be medical decisions, not football decisions. The goal should be moving all injury decision making to where it has become for concussions, which is beyond the provence of players and coaches. I actually thought we were there, but the story with Dez Bryant makes me wonder if we are or not.
Mr. Brandt, I think one of the reasons Goodell drew a hardline in CBA negotiations on his retention of player discipline powers is because when you sit down and look at it, it's the only real power he has. Every other decision he makes has to be vetted by the owners, whether its accepting a CBA deal or imposing salary cap fines on the Redskins/Cowboys. Thoughts?
That's a good point. In my experience in knowing and working under Goodell, there are some decisions that come from ownership, mainly financial and business decisions, but when it comes to integrity decisions and player conduct and morality, those are near and dear to Goodell, for whatever the motivation. I've seen him in action and I know that it's real and sincere. When he went into the CBA negotiation, he was not going to give up control over player conduct, that was nonnegotiable in his mind. The bottom line is he achieved it. There are 8 years left in the CBA that ensure his power over player discipline. For those that think Tagliabue's ruling effected that, it's not the case. What the Saints case does do for players, however, is provide the players with a future road map to circumvent the process with Goodell. But we will see if that becomes a trend.
Thanks as usual for some great questions and truly intelligent comments. As always, look for my columns on ESPN.com and follow me on Twitter: @ADBrandt. We'll be here, same time, same place next week.