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.
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.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."
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.
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.
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.