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NFL Lockout Imminent

 

By: Shadi Kaileh

The National Football League (NFL) is on its way to a second straight lockout due to a failure to come to mutually favorable terms for players and the league regarding key contentious issues in the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) terms. “It’s going to happen,” according to 49ers All-Pro defensive back and team union representative, Richard Sherman.[1] The NFL has been experiencing a steady decline in ratings over the past two seasons[2] amidst a rise in National Basketball Association viewership[3] among other entertainment options. The league has been the subject of several widely publicized controversial issues ranging from domestic violence charges against star players to the accusations that the New England Patriots were cheating, to players kneeling during the national anthem and Commissioner Roger Goodell having lifetime private jet access added to his potential $200 million dollar contract extension[4].

Among the various gripes being voiced by the players are that Commissioner Goodell wields too much power, that players should not be punished for their protests and that there is a lack of guaranteed contracts[5] for players whose careers last an average of three to six years[6]. Players argue that the current CBA is to blame for the fruitless percentage of guaranteed contract money, and this is due to the fact that the NFL CBA caps the share of player revenue at 48.5% of NFL revenue; this is in contrast with the 50% split that NBA players enjoy.[7] Thus, the salary cap, which accounts for a significant portion of the CBA text, negatively impacts players because owners are reluctant to guarantee contracts to players who are more than likely to get injured and render the money spent against the cap useless.[8] For this reason, the idea of raising the salary cap for each team in order to increase the players’ share of overall revenue, thus increasing the percentage of guaranteed contract money, will likely be the most contentious point of negotiation.

With Goodell’s five-year contract extension having been signed off by all of the thirty-two team owners, it is unlikely that any pushback against Goodell’s decision-making power will see a successful outcome. One potential solution to this issue would be a concession by the league to appoint an independent review committee and to implement a more predictable method for the manner in which fines and suspensions are levied. Currently, the NFL Compliance Committee reviews conduct violations and Commissioner Rodger Goodell levies the final punishment.[9] However, the NFL Operations Manual is silent as to the exact process for how discipline is administered, and thus, the administration of punishment for conduct violations has been criticized by many as widely inconsistent.[10]

Some speculation around the league is that the NFL Player’s Union folded easily in past negotiations and because of this, that the league would not budge from their position on these matters because the NFL holds the power in the negotiations.[11] Simply put, a vast majority of the players do not have the luxury to sit out indefinitely, whereas the owners likely could withstand the player strike. While all thirty-two owners are financially situated to withstand a lengthy lockout, it is well understood by players that their time to make money in the NFL is limited and the livelihoods of themselves and their families depend on getting a deal done quickly. The NFL has implemented various rules to increase player safety such as a tackling rule, that prevents a player from dipping their head when performing a tackle, as well as a rule forbidding defensive players from landing atop a quarterback when making a tackle.[12] These rules are the first of their kind and are likely being put in place to help the league with the potential assertion that the game is being made safer for the players in order to increase the longevity of their careers.

The NFL is going to have significant bargaining power in the upcoming CBA negotiations, and the implementation of these policies to improve player safety will likely be another tactic employed by the NFL to counter the players’ argument for an increase in guaranteed contracts. Nonetheless, with key points of disagreement on both sides, if progress is not made soon in the negotiation process, a NFL lockout is imminent come the expiration of the current agreement in 2021.

 

[1] Richard Sherman Predicts Lockout After Current CBA Expires in ’21, SportsBusiness Daily (September 10, 2018, 8:02pm), https://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2018/09/07/NFL-Season-Preview/Lockout.aspx           .
[2] Richard Deitsch, Why the NFL’s Ratings Saw a Steep Decline in 2017, Sports Illustrated (September 10, 2018, 8:05pm), https://www.si.com/tech-media/2018/01/03/nfl-ratings-decline-espn-fox-nbc-network-tv.
[3] Daniel Holloway, NBA Regular-Season Ratings Hit 4-Year High, Variety (September 10, 2018, 8:06pm), https://variety.com/2018/tv/news/nba-ratings-1202752848/.
[4] NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Signs Five-Year Contract Extension, ESPN (September 10, 2018, 8:11pm), http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/21691975/nfl-commissioner-roger-goodell-signs-contract-extension.
[5] Richard Sherman Predicts Lockout After Current CBA Expires in ’21, SportsBusiness Daily (September 10, 2018, 8:02pm), https://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2018/09/07/NFL-Season-Preview/Lockout.aspx           .
[6] Average Playing Career Length in the National Football League (in years), Statista (September 10, 2018, 8:18pm), https://www.statista.com/statistics/240102/average-player-career-length-in-the-national-football-league/.

[7] Vincent Frank, NFL Players Call for Guaranteed Contracts as Potential Work Stoppage Looms, Forbes (September 19, 2018, 8:04pm), https://www.forbes.com/sites/vincentfrank/2018/07/05/nfl-players-call-for-guaranteed-contracts-as-potential-work-stoppage-looms/#756123292b76.
[8] Id.

 

[9] NFL Rules Enforcement, National Football League Operations (September 19, 2018, 7:52pm), https://operations.nfl.com/football-ops/nfl-rules-enforcement/.
[10] Allison McCann, The NFL’s Uneven History of Punishing Domestic Violence, FiveThirtyEight (September 19, 2018, 7:45pm), https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/nfl-domestic-violence-policy-suspensions/.
[11] Richard Sherman Predicts Lockout After Current CBA Expires in ’21, SportsBusiness Daily (September 10, 2018, 8:02pm), https://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2018/09/07/NFL-Season-Preview/Lockout.aspx           .
[12] 2018 Rules Changes and Points of Emphasis, National Football League Operations (September 10, 2018, 8:26pm), https://operations.nfl.com/the-rules/2018-rules-changes-and-points-of-emphasis/.