Monday, March 7, 2011

"Ocean's 32"

The owners had a pretty good plan. Then David Doty happened.

Thank god for Judge David Doty.

NFL owners have been scheming and dreaming of this week for almost two full years now. And they are more fucked, than they themselves, even know.

Here's the NFL labor situation in a nutshell. David Doty won't LET the owners lock the players out at this point. Once this week of kabuki-style "negotiations" run their course, the players will likely decertify, the owners will lock out, and the players will be in Doty's courtroom on Monday.

Literally, Monday.

Doty blistered the owners in his recent decision. He called the the NFL's underhanded TV rights re-negotiations with the vaunted "lockout insurance" not just "bad faith" but actually said it was "unconscionable" in its unfairness, and hello, illegal.

He's not just going to deny the owners their $4 billion. He's going to award the players damages from it!

This is not a judge who will let a lockout stand. He'll almost certainly issue an injunction against the lockout, while the players' lawsuit proceeds. So in effect, Doty will force the owners to keep "marching on" with league business, while the players pursue a new way of doing business on their own - without a union.

So the NFL would then be forced to let teams start spending money on this year's free agents (Danny, get Redskins One gassed up and on the runway!) while simultaneously watching the players sue to overturn various critical parts of the league's infrastructure.

So, how's that simple plan working right now? You know: "Lockout. Collect TV money. Wait for players to cave."

The players don't really want to dismantle the Draft, tear down the salary cap, and negotiate contracts, pensions, and all of that one-by-one. But given the alternative, it's starting to look better all the time.

When the owners don't treat you with respect or seriousness, there is no sense reciprocating.

The biggest mistake DeMaurice Smith and the union made was being reasonable. "Hey, we're fine with the current system." That made it look like they had somehow robbed the owners' bank account the last time around.

Smith and the players should have said: "Look, we can continue as we are, but there are some things we really don't like. So if we tear up the agreement, we've got a new wish list."

That list should include eliminating the franchise tag.

Nothing screws good players, quite as bad as this. Michael Vick is a perfect example, even though he's a uniquely un-sympathetic figure.

Vick had played things straight up, to a point where he legitimately earned the right to have teams bid on him, for what would have certainly been a multi-year guaranteed deal for close to $60 million or more.

Instead, he got the one year handcuffs from the Eagles for $16 million.

And please don't trot out the "I'd love to make that in one year" argument. Everything has to be judged in context. Vick and others ARE the product, in a $9 billion industry.

There is no comparison to "Joe The Plumber."

Compared to other athletes, and other NFL players un-shackled by the "franchise tag" this should be unacceptable to the union.

But then again, they were being reasonable. This should teach them.

If I were the players, I would also seek to eliminate contract end-arounds like the one AJ Hawk agreed to with the Packers. Hawk was a good player that the Pack wanted to keep.

But his contractually agreed upon salary for next year, was too high.

So the team was able to rip that deal up, and sign him for less. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.

When players get just a LITTLE bit too expensive teams can adjust immediately and often without consequence. Yet when Chris Johnson blows the lid of the NFL market for game changing running backs, he has to threaten holding out to get a new deal. It's not his fault that the NFL draft and it's geniuses missed on his impact abilities, and thus paid him a slotted salary that was well below market value.

I know, Johnson did get more money, but that's beside the point. Many players, do not. And it is the egregious one-sided-ness of these NFL contracts that should be brought more into equity.

A union-less NFL world would in many ways, be a bonanza for the players. And not just the stars. If you think mid-level players wouldn't get paid under a wide-open system, I give you Adam Archuleta and Brandon Lloyd as just two examples.

Owners like Snyder, vastly over-paid for these guys, and that was with a HARD SALARY CAP in place!

The money would find the players. 

And the stars? Oh boy, hold on to your hats.

What is Peyton Manning worth on the true, un-fettered, no-tag, free agent market?

Answer: a shitload more than whatever deal he ends up signing for under this system.

Manning may truly want to stay where he's had success and where the fans treat him like a God, but given a compelling PowerPoint presentation from a quality organization that really needs a "put us over the top" QB, I could easily see him breaking the bank.

Do the owners really want to give birth to the football equivalent of Scott Boras?

Nobody believes the owners aren't making a ton of money, year over year, not to mention the equity wealth they are building by owning their franchise. The fastest way to "prove" this would be to eliminate the cap, the tag, and the draft.

Which should make the owners pretty damn scared right now, because they have backed the players into a corner. Faced with a truly shitty offer that hasn't budged in two years, much less after 10 days of mediation, all kinds of once unthinkable options, suddenly get thought of in a much more positive light.

If the players were hell bent to decertify and launch the anti-trust "nuclear option", they would have a really good shot at winning on all fronts. But even if the players "only" were able to eliminate the cap and the tags, then suddenly Ralph Wilson's equity stake in his beloved Buffalo Bills would take a good 20% hit.

Bye-bye, $200 million!

Which brings me to the last point on the owners' collective stupidity.

Key to their "reasoning" is that they need more money to build more stadiums. Okay, let's take a look at that prospect.

How is a mini-JerryWorld going to help the Bills?

There just aren't the corporate dollars in Buffalo, NY to make building a luxury-suite palace a net money-winner. And if you want to squeeze more from regular fans by way of club seats, PSL's and the like, well good luck on that.

A new stadium hasn't done much to help mend the penny choking, small minded, "this is my dad's old hardware store" approach to running the Bengals, now has it? I'm not taking sides with Carson Palmer or the team, but how fucked up do you have to be as a football organization to have a former Pro Bowl QB ready to fucking QUIT the game instead of come back to play for you!?

If you want a bold prediction, here's one: watch how quickly JerryWorld turns into a bloated, money losing dinosaur of a stadium.

At some point, every football fan in the DFW metroplex will have come and seen the place. They will have marveled at the JerryTron. And if Jerry doesn't fuck it up too bad (odds: 50-50) the team will be worth watching in person in say 7 years.

But the need - no the FINANCIAL IMPERATIVE - for warm blooded humans with money in their pockets to keep buying tickets at sky high prices to sit 3 nautical miles above the field in an all-day Sunday consuming activity, will remain.

That stadium won't be paid off in seven years. But who says fans will still be coming?

I stopped by the Sony Style store in Tysons' Corner mall on Friday night. Luckily, I resisted the urge to buy anything. But I did gander at their 3D sets and a Blue-Ray in 3D.

It was pretty damn impressive.

As I sat there with these goofy glasses on my face, I got to thinking: what if you could have 3D wrap-around glasses that are wi-fi/4G/whatever enabled, upon which I can watch all of the games in the vaunted "Sunday Ticket" with everyone's favorite crack cocaine "The Red Zone."

Shit, I could watch Sunday ticket from the golf course. From my hammock. From a boring car ride to the in-laws. And the picture quality would melt my fucking face!

Well, you know what. That day isn't just a Buck Rodgers space fantasy. That's gonna happen. Period.

Let me repeat: that day is coming, like James Harrison after a defenseless receiver.

If we don't have that technology in 10 years, I'll give you every TV I own right now. (Current count: 9 screens, all HD capable). Hell, these will be obsolete by then anyway. Have 'em.

This is the world the NFL owners are blind to right now. They are blind to disruptive technologies that will destroy some of their existing revenue streams, like stadiums and luxury boxes.

Sure, it won't be equally damaging across the board. Some cities, like say Green Bay and Pittsburgh, have a communal joy and vibe associated with actually going to the game, tailgating, and sharing the game day experience.

But at least 1/3 of the league does not. Not even close.

Those franchises will be increasingly left behind, and need further help to compete if the NFL still wants to avoid becoming the English Premiere League or Major League Baseball.

And while the owners say: "aha, that's our point!" in regard to the current labor mess, in reality they are just trying to rob a 7-11 at gunpoint to keep their mortgage current for a few months.

Stealing 18% from players who are increasingly on their way to shortened life spans, and brain damaged retirements, is not just morally repulsive, it's hardly a viable business plan to keep the league balanced and competitive.

Better revenue sharing and some hard and honest discussions about market size and stadiums would be a good start.

But, hey, the owners aren't at that point right now. Not yet, at least. They've engineered what they thought was a brilliant, "Ocean's 32" style heist that was meticulously planned for almost two years.

Looks like they are going to see it through, for better or worse.

My parting plea to Smith and the Union: go ahead, make their day.


  1. Though the players are part of the product, the league itself is the actual product. If the NFL ends up like MLB, then my football watching will shift to local high schools and college in a big way. The Packers have already priced themselves out of my budget, and I have a very good job making well above average pay. I will not pay the $200 or more for my wife and I to go to a game.
    League must do something about overpaying rookies and have some sort of incentive based merit benchmarks to allow for overachieving players like Johnson to get payed fairly.

  2. And I BELIEVE this is the same Federal Judge who for the last couple of years has blocked the NFL from suspending the Vikings' "Williams Wall" for their performance enhancing drug violations.

    It is my understanding thAT he reason the NFLPA is de-certfying is so that they can stay in Judge Doty's jurisdiction.

  3. "If I were the players, I would also seek to eliminate contract end-arounds like the one AJ Hawk agreed to with the Packers."

    OK, as far as it goes, but..

    I don't think it's fair to whine over A.J. Hawk's contract situation while conveniently ignoring in your rant the signing bonuses which are really what the current contract process are all about.

  4. These are some of the shittiest arguments I've ever heard from you. Guaranteeing Mike Vick will be one of the top five salaries is unfair because it also means he has to stay with one team for a whole year? The alternative is the MLB or NBA systems where there is no fan loyalty because players can (and are encouraged to by their unions) go to the highest bidders whenever they want. The NFL looked at that idiocy, saw what it did to fan loyalty in those sports and came up with a solution. the players get paid and the fans don't have to worry about their stars getting bought up every year.
    As for AJ Hawk's contract, Green Bay released him, he could have been signed by any other team and if he was that sought after his agent would have had the offers lined up as soon as GB released him. Nobody wanted him for his price so GB re-signed him.

  5. All right. I think you are the greatest. Loved your show on xm and miss hearing you. No other has filled your shoes. Now, about this NFL thing,.... Czabe you are wrong on this one. Please look at it if you were an owner. Ask any local business man where you are about the red tape and taxes and permits and regulations and potential lawsuits that he has to overcome on a day to day basis. I own a small family business and fight it everyday. I can no longer afford to go to the games. Rookie cap. Sounds good. Owners risk their money. They should get more. I know the argument, players are risking their health. What are coal miners doing? Loggers? Land surveyors (me)? Policemen? If the players don't wanna play for the salary offered, hey go to work as something else. Czabe, Luv Ya, mean it!

  6. @ Mark D.

    1. First NFL players aren't like regular workers. They generate money, they are a product. It's a very select skill set to be an NFL player.

    2. The NFLPA had no problem negotiating a rookie salary cap, 18 game season, etc based on the last collective bargaining agreement. However the owners want to blow up the last CBA and create a new one that give less money to players. I mean honestly the old CBA which was 60% to players and 40% to owners (minus $1Billion to the owners off the top) was a pretty fair deal. Owners got salary caps and franchise tags to keep player salaries down.

  7. I really have no sympathy for either side. Screw 'em all. I'm 40 years old and have been a big fan for 30 years, but in all honesty, I can go without the NFL. My life doesn't depend on it. Don King ruined boxing. David Stern ruined the NBA. Crooked refs and crooked programs are ruining college sports, and Vince McMahon ruined wrestling. I used to be big fans of those sports, but they all pissed me off in one way or another, and now I don't watch. If the NFL wants to take me for granted, they can go pound sand. I can find better things to do than root for doggy killers and murderers (we all know your're guilty, Ray Ray). Hell, who needs the NFL when there is CHARLIE SHEEN!

  8. Yeah, what Jeff said. (Well said sir)

  9. Except the Charlie Sheen part...

  10. Commenters are missing Czabe's point. Players are fine with the current system. Czabe is fine with the current system.

    It's the OWNERS who are threatening to blow up the current system if they don't get an extra "One BEEEELLION Dollars" a year. So to quote the great George Costanza--you want to get nuts? Let's get nuts!

    Owners don't like the current system? Well, there are things about the system the players aren't crazy about. Maybe the franchise tag and the cap system has contributed to franchise stability and the league's popularity. But guess what? That's not the players' problem. The players have to get what they can while they can, before they get broken and discarded. It's up to the owners, the long-term investors, to do what is needed to protect those things.

  11. well at least now we'll get to see which team will overspend to make another 49er-like 80s dynasty team.