Labor Dispute Hinges On Personal Rapport
BUT, AS COMMISH, GOODELL HAS MORE TO LOSE
By Joe Platania
Any NFL lockout news update is going to contain dry, bureaucratic language that easily bores fans, further alienating them from a game they not only love, but want fervently to return.
But in the end -- which should be coming soon, thanks to time constraints -- a settlement won't hinge on revenue shares, free-agent rules, legal maneuverings or allegedly secret negotiations.
It will come down to elements as simple as these: a furrowed brow, a firmly set jaw, a pensive finger tap on the chin, or a voice inflected in such a way that either progress or retreat could be clearly ascertained.
This is a story that will help shape the legacies of two men: commissioner Roger Goodell and the executive director of the former players' union, DeMaurice Smith.
Earlier this week, more mediated negotiations took place in an undisclosed location near Boston as efforts intensify to acquire a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Thursday was the 100th day of the lockout, which began on March 11 when negotiations broke down in Washington, D.C.
Most observers now think that an agreement can be struck by approximately July 15 to save an entire pre- and regular-season schedule, as well as allow for a truncated free-agent signing period and a full training camp.
But even though the New York Giants' John Mara and New England's Robert Kraft are seen as the best consensus builders among ownership, and the former union's executive committee -- which includes Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth -- is assisting its side, it is Smith and Goodell who will decide the fate of the talks, as well as the future of the game.
And it is how they deal with each other as men -- on a personal as well as on a professional basis -- that will determine how quickly a deal will get done … and, more importantly, how long it will last.
The immediate and long-term future of the nation's most popular professional sport is firmly in their hands, which is good news for those who don't like to hear about the slow pace of the court calendar and the accelerated pace of the lawyers' billable hours.
But despite negotiating teams that can put as many as two dozen people at the negotiating table at any one time, Goodell and Smith are the principals here, the two standing in an empty town square, staring each other down as tumbleweeds blow past.
One approaches the public -- and, one would assume, the negotiating table -- in finely pressed suits, an outwardly calm demeanor and a tendency to choose his words carefully while presenting them in a monotone fashion.
The other wears a stylish black hat, a perennially downward curve on the corners of his mouth and walks as if he is approaching a date in the boxing ring with Mike Tyson or Muhammad Ali.
Of such contrasts, as well as negotiating inexperience, are such disputes made. But even though Smith’s and Goodell's personal differences will have to be worked out in order to save football, and even though both must make concessions on behalf of their constituents to do so, one of the parties clearly has more to lose than the other.
That would be Goodell, who came riding onto the league landscape as a disciplinarian, a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners leader who wanted to restore his league's reputation off the field as well as on it.
Now -- with published reports indicating Smith has gained Goodell's trust in the negotiating room -- would be a letter-perfect opportunity to do so again.
It appears that if an agreement is reached in this dispute, both sides could be amenable to a CBA that lasts a staggering 10 years, longer than any previous deal. Goodell has reportedly set forth a proposal that includes major concessions on both sides (highlights of the proposal are listed at the end of this article).
But whether the commissioner is simply grandstanding in response to the time crunch or has finally hit on a combination of elements that could produce a deal, the facts are these:
It is Goodell that is mainly responsible for the game's future, not Smith. The group that initiated the lockout hired Goodell, not Smith.
Most importantly, it is Goodell, and not Smith, who is following in the footsteps of the greatest commissioner -- and, for that matter, consensus-builder -- any sport has ever known, Pete Rozelle.
So, with time running out and the showdown set, two men will again meet in an empty town square. Their brows will furrow, their jaws will set, their voices will make their intentions perfectly clear.
But as fast as they can propose action -- or counter each other's -- only one can fire first.
And only one can truly hit the target and have it leave a lasting legacy.
Here is the latest framework commissioner Roger Goodell proposed for a new collective bargaining agreement that was worked on this week during mediated negotiating sessions in an undisclosed Boston-area location. Talks are set to continue next week:
- Instead of the players getting 60 percent of gross revenues as in the past, they would receive 48 percent of all revenues, the lowest number in the salary-cap era (since 1993).
- An unspecified rookie wage scale would be put into effect, starting with next year's rookies.
- The 18-game regular-season schedule would continue to be a negotiable point, even though it would not be mandated for 2012. It now appears likely 2013 would be the earliest date in which it could be implemented, if at all
- Owners would continue to receive monetary credit to offset the cost of new stadium construction.
- The owners would be denied their previously held $1 billion credit, skimmed off the top of the league's $9 billion annual revenue.
- Free agency would revert back to the rules used between 1994-2009. It would require only four years instead of six for a player to be an unrestricted free agent. Restricted free agency would return to three years' accrued service instead of four.
(That would lead to the following Ravens, all with four and five years' experience in the league, suddenly becoming unrestricted free agents: FB Le'Ron McClain, T Jared Gaither, T Tony Moll, G Chris Chester, T/G Marshal Yanda, LB Prescott Burgess, CB Josh Wilson, S Dawan Landry.)
- Currently, an annual owners' contribution of $8 million goes into the players' pension fund for health benefits and other uses. Under a new CBA, that would rise to $16 million within the next five years.
Posted June 24, 2011