Saturday, July 23, 2011

My Most Comprehensive, Final Word On Just Where I Stand On The NFL Lockout

The NFL is the Deadliest Catch of sports.

Or at least it should be.

Here's how I see it, and I'll just cut to the chase: NFL players are badly UNDER-paid by comparison to their fellow professional athletes.

NFL players currently have...

a. The lowest average salary per player
b. The greatest % of players working for the league minimum (approx. 1000 of 1800)
c. The shortest average career length
d. The highest rate of injury

Additionally, NFL players play in the most collectively lucrative league, with a whopping $9 billion annual revenue pie.

The other leagues are well, not even in their league.

Yes, I know. Every other sport has smaller rosters, and longer seasons.

So what?

The only thing that matters, is TOTAL pie. The NFL players are about to take a step BACK in the only sport that is kicking ass in America, recession be damned.

NFL players may seem "expendable" or "replaceable" because they wear out so quickly. But it doesn't mean that they aren't unique and talented athletes.

While Michael Vick may be the guy who sells jerseys, the guys who chase after him like a pack of rabid dogs (sorry, too easy) to tackle him into dust, aren't just some guys off the street.

They are dedicated athletic FREAKS, who have climbed a mountain of fellow players to reach the game at the highest level.

Just like how deckhands on crab boats may seem like easily replaceable, no-education, fisherman - so many quit, burnout, or, well, sorry, DIE. Yet, they are not paid as if there's an inexhaustible supply of them.

They are paid a premium.

I recently watched an episode where they said the crew of the Wizard netted $22,000 a man for a 5-week season of Opilio fishing.

Doing the quick back-of-the-envelope math on this - and it's always dangerous with me, but let me take a stab here - I estimate the average hourly wage of such a trip to be $26+ per day.

$22,000 deckhand share for Opi's
5 weeks (35 days)

If you can gut out four fishing "seasons" per year (say, King, Opie, and two others) at that rate, you can make almost 6-figures and still have 12 weeks off per year.

Pretty good work, if you don't mind how fucking insane and dangerous it is.

Kinda like professional tackle football.

Meanwhile, another job in Dutch Harbor Alaska that pays a lot less, but also requires little education - if any - is to work in a fish processing plant. By my research, you're looking at about $7/hour to flash cook and freeze the same crabs Keith and crew just went out and dragged from the Bering Sea.

The best pay, goes to the riskiest and most difficult job.

I contend that making an NFL roster and staying there, is about as hard as anything in pro sports.

Yet NFL players are seemingly willing to accept a "modest" cut of about 6% in total net pay this time around. Despite a league that is showing absolutely NO signs of financial distress.

There is no hard and fast rule, that NFL players can't make upwards of 55-60% of the league's overall revenue. They just haven't asked for it, and are seemingly unprepared to fight for it.
And it's their league, and their careers, but I say they are nuts.

Fox Sports' Jason Whitlock is looking at the same hand of poker I am. He writes...

The owners blinked.

All it took was the potential cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game to force Roger Goodell and NFL ownership to reveal their bluff Thursday.

It’s not 1987. They’re not dumb enough to sacrifice one of their 16 regular-season games to fix a non-existent problem. The NFL is far from broken. It’s one of the few products America still produces far better than the rest of the world.

The lockout has been one long, poorly executed bluff.

Seventeen days before the ceremonial Hall of Fame Game, the owners and Goodell hatched a Hail Mary public-relations ploy trying to bully the players into agreeing to a deal the players had yet to read. Goodell held a news conference proclaiming the lockout over.

My contention for the past year was there was no way NFL owners were going to derail the greatest reality TV show in the world (the NFL regular season). It took 30 years of rules-massaging to turn NFL quarterbacks into the biggest brands on the small screen. Charlie Sheen wishes he could drive the TV ratings Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Michael Vick generate week to week.

Goodell’s job is to ride Manning and Brady until their wheels fall off.
And those wheels fall off pretty quickly given the ferocity of the modern game. It's why the players should have no shame in stating plainly: "We're unique talents. We pay a helluva price physically for the rest of our lives. And we burn out quickly. That deserves premium compensation."

Go ahead and tell the owners to try a full season of UFL caliber players. See how that works out.

I went back to refresh my memory on how the MLB strike of 1994 went down. It's rather amazing by comparison. At the time, MLB players were well compensated. That wasn't the issue. It was the fact that the owners and Bud Selig - then, "acting" commissioner - were ready to try to RAM a salary cap down the union's throat.

One could easily argue the game needed one, given how widely the payroll gap had grown between the big markets and the smalls. You may not ensure yourself of making the playoffs with a big payroll, but it certainly WAS like starting with two face cards in your hand every year.

But the players had the balls to draw a line in the sand.

They said a salary cap was dead on arrival. They said they would walk with the season on the line. They weren't bluffing.

They walked. They stayed strong. And MLB had to take it's showcase event, the World Series, take it out back, and put a bullet in it's head.

The strike lasted all through the winter, and into spring. The owners went ahead with scabs. The players didn't flinch. I don't recall hearing people say "oh, these athletes will never be able to make their car payments" back then.

They were fucking GANGSTERS! It was literally, a fight to the death for the players' union.

And they won.

Sure, it helped that they got a favorable bounce from then circuit court Judge Sonya Sotomayor.

But the point is, that they were absolutely, all-in. All the way.

Years later, what's the lesson? Well, baseball is fine, and not a single team went under.

And the players make absolutely absurd bank.


Vernon Wells is making $26 million this season, to hit a pedestrian .222 for the Anaheim Angels.

While Arian Foster, who led the league in rushing in 2010 with 1600+ yards and 16 touchdowns, is due to play for a mere $480,000 this coming season as a "exclusive rights" free agent.

A "free agent" who actually isn't free. Talk about an oxymoron!

This is not an argument that Foster should make $26 million dollars. And you can claim that I have cherry picked two convenient extremes to make my point.

I have, but that doesn't matter.

The Arian Fosters of the NFL don't have time to try to cut their way through the NFL's byzantine player contract rules so they can magically land on the ONE season where they will be TRUE free agents, and THEN hopefully have a statisically breakthrough year.

They are usually out of the league by then, or yesterday's news. Which is how the owners like it.

I don't blame the owners for trying to keep it that way, but if you are the players, this IS THE FIGHT OF YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIFE to attempt to fix that in your favor.

If Foster weren't so restricted, there would be plenty of suitors for his talents. And while a team may make a poor investment in him (see Snyder, Daniel M.) at least it's up to the clubs to take that chance.

In any professional sport, the purchase of a player through free agency - star or otherwise - is almost always, on some level, a luxury purchase by the billionaire owner.

"I simply MUST have this guy! I will pay ANYTHING!"

How do you think Vernon Wells, even at the height of his Vernon Wellsian powers, got so grossly over-paid?

The only way for the NFLPA to get the kind of compensation I think they deserve, is to have the balls and fortitude to march all the way through the heart of the league, and burn their fucking house down.

Stay decertified, push through with your anti-trust litigation, let the season go up in flames, and watch Goodell and Company have to take the Super Bowl out back and shoot IT in the head with wailing tears in their eyes.

Take down the legality of the college draft. Take down the salary cap. Take down all the franchise tags and shit. And checkmate the commissioner from suspending you and stealing a third of your salary every time some drunken bimbo claims you grabbed her tits in a bar.

When the owners cry that you will "destroy" the league, and "ruin" the game, tell them in your best Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive voice: "I don't care.."

The players seem to like to look and talk like gangsters. Time to be one.

Will the fans hate your guts for it? Of course. We hated the baseball players. We stayed away for a few years. But we got over it. Baseball ain't dead, and football is an even tougher sonofabitch to kill.

You aren't doing this to be liked, you are doing it so guys don't have to perform like league stars for a mere 10% of free market value.

It may well push out some of the small market "mom-and-pop" owners like Wilson, Bidwell, Brown, and Richardson, among others.

To which I say: "Good!"

Bring in more Mikhail Prokhorofs. Dudes who can buy an NFL team for $800 million, run it as an annual loss-leader for nothing more than the celebrity pussy and global entertainment purposes, and not even blink.

You know, these football teams do not HAVE to be profitable on their own. I mean, they DO if it's your only business your family has ever run. But not if you are a billionaire.

As a players union, your mission should be to drive these old cranks out of the league at all costs. You can't say that publicly, but that's your mission. An owner who thinks as small mindedly as Mike Brown of the Bengals, deserves no sympathy from you. Anybody who is ready to run a still viable near-franchise QB out of the league, simply because he doesn't want to acquiesce to a trade, is god-damned insane!

So what did Major League Baseball owners do after the union fucked them up sideways back in 1994?

Well, you haven't heard more than a peep from them since about "taking their league back" like Jerry Richardson recently did, now have you?

Baseball decided there's just no way you can keep the Yankees from spending lots of money on a really good team, and it's probably bad business to even try. So they taxed the rich teams so steeply, they thought for sure it would "reel them in" a bit.

It didn't.

But it did make for a huge re-distributive windfall for the poor teams, who may still suck for the most part, but they aren't going bankrupt. And now, they seem to be finding out creative ways to compete with younger and cheaper players.

And when Vernon Wells somehow ends up making $26 million dollars, everyone can just write it off and shrug: "Oh well, seemed to make sense, at the time."

All this, in a sport where it's relatively easy to spot, pay, and then plug-in the best players at each position.

The NFL is a much more mysterious sport, where talent is hidden behind many layers of camoflage (scheme, injuries, teammates) and each player piece needs to fit more precisely and co-exist peacefully with their team.

Championship contending NFL teams are like summer thunderstorms, popping up and forming seemingly out of nowhere. A vast payroll disparity would have even less effect than it does in baseball.

Mind you, all of this that I have laid out, is not necessarily what I WANT to happen. I would rather have a peaceful 2011 season, and a reasonable revenue split. I'm just saying that if I was advising the players, this is exactly what I would tell them.

So far, I think the owners, fans, and media have underestimated these current players. Waiting and waiting for them to fold, we're suddenly crossing off significant chunks of the 2011 season.

If the players cave this weekend, and sign the owners' arrogant deal they tossed at them out the window of their learjets on Thursday night, then that's on them.

I sure wouldn't do it. But it's their league. Their careers. And their moment.


  1. If the work is so unfair for the players, they should either buy a team themselves or go play for another professional league somewhere that is offering them the compensation they want. Sorry. Free market systems are a bitch.

  2. This post is why must continue to exist - great work Steve-o.

  3. *Sigh* We've all lost our collective minds. No one gives a crap about anyone else. The owners don't care about the players or the fans. The players don't care about the owners or the fans. And the fans, well, they only care about sitting on their fat asses watching games. If I hear my NFL neighbor bitch about his $2M/yr contract ever again, I'll start experimenting on small animals. It's ludicrous that we give as much of a shit about these overpaid children - and I mean ALL of them - as we do.

    And as per your recession comment, Czabe, isn't that the most interesting point of all? We're bleeding ourselves in debt in this country, no one has a job, but dammit if we won't pony up cash to watch guys beat the living hell out of one another ...

    Good nite, now.

  4. You mention 1994 as if the MLB players were heroic. Actually, they were not. MLB as a whole is a corrupted good ole boys club. They players didn’t fix anything or solve any problems, they just found a way to force the owners to let them into their club. The sport is still fundamentally messed up. And MLB suffered for years and years in attendance afterwards AND a franchise DID go under. (The Expos, yes they moved but they really went under and were kept alive by an owners bailout) Many of my friends that I grew up playing and watching baseball with, stopped paying attention to MLB in 1995, and have NEVER returned. While the game survives, it is not the same, nor will it ever be the same as it was in 1993.

    The NHL's lost season a few years ago has also caused extreme damage to the product with only 1 nationally televised game per week... for less than half the season. The rest on a tiny network that most don't know they even have on their cable system.

    I'm not taking sides here, because I just don’t care. My point is fans get tired of hearing about these labor problems when they can't come to grips on how to sort out billions of dollars all while the country is rolling along at 10% unemployment. Let's get real, this is a game. A GAME. Both sides need to get their head out of their ass and realize that come October if the NFL isn't on, the nation will have flipped it's attention else ware and moved on. Move a couple of NCAA games to Sunday, I’m good.

    Maybe if we reduce the stockpiles of money from billions down to millions it will be easier to figure out how to spit it.

    Meanwhile, I have to go find a job now to support my family as I was laid off because my company couldn’t meet payroll. My company didn’t make billions a year. I don't have millions in the bank and tomorrow, my kids will want food. Unlike the players who are only concerned their Bentley's and SUVs don't miss any detailing appointments and the owners have flush cash for new stadiums to ask guys like me to drop $500 or more on a Sunday afternoon.

    spare me.

  5. Your hatred of Jerry Richardson is a little perplexing. He's an entrepreneur, a former player(different era of course) and survived heart ailments. Just because he's a hardass, doesn't mean he deserves your scorn, just because.

    And I maintain that the players throwing in with Obama, via in over his head and typical union thug Demaurice Smith, was a mistake. They look like goons with him in charge and if they say no to this deal, they'll lose the fans.

    Your player populism notwithstanding Czabe, I agree with your first commenter. If the players don't like the owners and the system, start their own league with their own money. Money, I might add, the owners are willingly giving them. You make it sound like they're slave owners (EFFING ridiculous Czaban and a pathetic and shameful comment you made about Jones and Richardson) and the players just can't get along with their multi-year seven to eight figure incomes.

  6. Steve, excellent article. I disagree with many of your points, but it's well thought out and reasoned.

    I'm old enough to remember when baseball was more popular than football in America. One of the reasons (not the only) that football surpassed baseball was the constant labor strife in baseball. That, combined with the institutional inequity of a sport with a salary cap (football) vs a sport without one (baseball) helped make football more popular.

    I think the thing you are overlooking here is the damage losing the NFL season would do for the fanbase. I'm not saying the NFL would go away - far from it. But it will take a few years to fully recover.

    The NFL is superior to the other sports for several reasons. Two of which are, for the most part, labor peace for 25 years AND a strong salary cap so that all 32 teams have a legitimate chance of winning a Super Bowl. Whatever the outcome of this current labor dispute, those 2 items better be respected for there will be more permanent damage to the game than anyone wants.

  7. The really only thing the owners have to do to sustain the success of the league is to maintain the competitive balance that exists between its member teams. It is the only sports league where teams like the Packers and Giants can compete evenly on and off the field. THIS AND ONLY THIS is why it is the most popular professional sports league in this country, ever.

    The players can take a flying leap for all I care. If they don't like playing this GAME for a living, maybe they would have more options if they would have studied a little harder in school. This is still America where everyone can be anything the want to be if they work hard enough and long enough for it. If playing NFL football is so bad, there are other options available.

  8. Explains, I guess, why I saw DeMorris smith burst out in between Mortenson and that other guy on ESPN Friday after work...he just popped in out of nowhere...

    The players should tell these guys to get fucked, exactly right.

    When you look at what they make, and what they give's insane to cave.

    So I have a workplace, and a guy who is my employee breaks his leg, then I fire him, and not give him any severance or time off or leave of absence?

    Goddell is covering up that this business is built on the gullibility of it's employees and the corruption of the NFL PR firm, ESPN.

    It's pretty sick when you think about it. I would feel better about it if it was like it used to be. The guys work four months out of the year, and get jobs the rest.

    Not they just get spit out into society with absolutely nothing, and stupid because of the exploitation of countless education administrators.

    But, you'd also have to be nuts to play the game, it's incredibly dangerous.

  9. Random observations.

    First of all, the fans will always come back and no matter what the length of the strike would have been. They (we?) are suckers and will buy tickets, jerseys, watch televised games, etc. However, this point is moot now that it appears to be an agreement in place.

    The players' union showed little, if any, interest in the plight of former players and their medical issues. For this reason, I couldn't care less about the plight of the current players, even the underpaid ones like Arian Foster.

    I think it's tougher to make an NBA roster than NFL. Minor quibble.

    Finally, I really don't care about this. I tried to, but then realized the fight is between two groups who have no regard for me(us). At the end of the day, they will all make more money and we will have to spend more, with the back drop of a crappy economy for us. I can't root for either side when it the end they will be enriching themselves at my (our) expense.

    I really was hoping they wouldn't play the season. I'd watch my kid's games, other high school games and college games, while the pros would feel the sting of some lost wages/revenue, and I'd have Sundays free...

  10. 16 games, NOT 18. Ballgame, the players won.

    Btw, I heard some mutt on ESPN readio say months ago that 18 games was a DONE DEAL, he locked it up.

    But really, the bookies made the deal get done, right? <;-)

    - Stike