Do not be fooled. This is still about greed.
It is a positive development that the National Football League and the NFL Players Association agreed on Friday to extend the deadline for the expiration of their collective bargaining agreement by seven days. The players did not have to decertify as a union on Friday or sue the league for antitrust violations, and the owners did not have to lock the players out. The players still are receiving their health benefits, but teams cannot make any roster moves during the extension.
Given the alternative, status quo for another week is good.
But don't for a minute think that the 32 NFL owners suddenly found religion and realized that asking for a second billion dollars off the top of the league's revenues was excessive and unreasonable. They didn't.
What the owners realized, thanks to a ruling earlier in the week by U.S. District Judge David S. Doty, is that they will not have access to $4 billion from their broadcast partners to prop up their teams in the event the 2011 season is lost to a work stoppage. That kind of money, or the lack thereof, made even the goliath that is the NFL drop its hard-lined, we-own-you approach with the players and legitimately get to the bargaining table.
With the deadline looming on Thursday, the league and union agreed to extend the CBA for 24 hours. On Friday, they agreed to another week of negotiating, beginning on Monday in Washington.
It is hard to imagine this would be happening had Doty not issued his ruling and backed the Players Association, which had accused the NFL of illegally securing a revenue stream from its broadcast partners - FOX, CBS, ESPN, NBC and DirecTV - as lockout protection. When the NFL negotiated contract extensions with its broadcast partners in April 2009, it agreed not to increase rights fees through 2011 as long as the partners agreed to pay the league whether or not there was a season in 2011.
In return, the broadcast partners got things like the ability to stream video. NBC got an extra game a season for four seasons.
Most important, the partners got the games. Had they balked at the 2011 provision, the NFL would have turned to the other networks, who gladly would have inked a contract.
According to Doty, the NFL left money on the table for the 2009 and 2010 television contracts in order to get the 2011 provision that would only benefit the league - and not the players - in the event of a lockout. When negotiating television contracts, the league is supposed to be acting on behalf of the league and the players, but in this instance, it did not.
"Here, the NFL renegotiated the broadcast contracts to benefit its exclusive interest at the expense of, and contrary to, the joint interests of the NFL and the Players," Doty wrote. "This conduct constitutes 'a design . . . to seek an unconscionable advantage' and is inconsistent with good faith."
Unconscionable advantage. By the NFL. Go figure.
The league has always been the bad guy in this fight. We are here talking about a potential lockout because the league, not the players, voluntarily and prematurely opted out of the collective bargaining agreement. Although the owners are printing money at a faster rate than ever before, with an estimated nine franchises worth at least a billion dollars, they are upset that they have to give the players 57 percent of the league revenues after subtracting the first billion dollars as an expense credit.
In 2010, the NFL's revenue was a reported $9.3 billion. Going forward, it will continue to be a huge pie to split, and the owners want more. More money. More games. More control.
Doty's decision further exposed the league's owners for the greedy people they are. It further showed that they couldn't care less about the players or their best interests. Never mind that the players' contracts aren't guaranteed or that they are putting their lives at risk. The owners deserve more money, or at least that is what they think.
Player safety. Personal conduct. Those are buzz words that make it sound like the league cares about its players. But what about CTE? Or dementia? Or suicide? What does that sound like?
Thanks to Doty, the players have the momentum in this negotiation. Without $4 billion to fall back on, the league seems motivated to avoid a lockout, and that wasn't the case two weeks or two months ago.
"Our players want to play football," said NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. "What we have always had as our core is the football that our players love to play and the fans who love to watch it, and there's never going to be a day where we're not going to have those two things first and foremost on our minds."
The hope here is that after the weekend, the union can use that momentum to get a fair and equitable new agreement that benefits the players and gives them better health care after they retire. The players are not the greedy ones. The owners are.