The NFL: What Would You Change (Part III) by Preston J. Gary, Jr.
Before we get started with our final installment dealing with changes that are negotiated in a CBA, I'd like to take a moment to throw dirt on the NFL. We finally have a bit of optimism that a deal (in principle) will be agreed upon before Independence Day, with the official mouthpiece of the NFL saying "we're working as hard as we can, we know what's at stake" and "we'll continue to work each day until a deal is done". How does this mesh with meeting two or three days a week for the past month, then taking a 4 day weekend off?
Just the other night, ESPN reported "meeting adjourned" for the week and that talks would resume Tuesday. Excuse me? Does it take 4 days to get your ducks in a row? Wouldn't a conference call at the end of the day suffice? Aren't we up against a deadline to get all the legal aspects of the deal taken care of so that there is time for teams to get in camp and play the HOF game, much less free agency? Where is the sense of urgency? Don't tell me how hard you are working NFL, show me.
The first installment of this series dealt with changes governed by the Competition Committee. The second part covered the changes regulated by NFL Corporate. Today's issue will embody changes we wish to see in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (or CBA, for those who've been under a rock). We will discuss changes that may not be on the agenda or in the news, but may very well make a better NFL.
Feel free to suggest your ideas in the comment section below.
1. Farm Teams--The NFL did away with NFL Europe because it wasn't economically viable. Yet unlike every other professional sport, there's no "farm system" in the NFL. The closest we have to being able to develop semi-pro players is the CFL, which is at odds with scheduling and contract issues do arise. Arena Football almost doesn't count because the rules are so different as well as the layout of the field. Teams are allowed to keep 8 players on a practice squad (which any team can sign them away to their active rosters), yet the rules governing this are limiting and strict. My proposal-- start a farm team for each division. Eight teams to compete and play in regional markets. Expand the roster limits for this purpose. Each team can designate 11 players to the farm system. You'd have a 44 player farm team for each division. It doesn't even have to be by division-- it can be 4 team groupings of closest geographical locations. For example: Chargers, 49ers, Raiders, and Seahawks.
2. Roster Limits--No matter what happens with the amount of games played, the NFL should expand all rosters. I'm talking the active game-day roster (currently 45), the 53-man roster, the 8-man practice squad roster, and taking into account Item # 1 above, an 11-man farm team roster. There has been talk of expanding the training camp rosters from 80 players to 90 players for THIS particular offseason and its challenges, but I don't believe that will be enough of a change. I've still not heard a good explanation as to why only 45 players can be active on game-day. All 53 are getting paid regardless. The NFL has evolved. Players are bigger and stronger, and faster for their size. Simple physics will tell you that makes for more violent collisions than ever before. While athletes train their bodies and increase explosion and muscle mass, ligaments, tendons, and bones have not evolved on the same curve. Translation--more serious injuries occur in this era. There exists a legitimate need for bigger rosters.
3. Rookie Pay Scale--This is in the works and it looks as if it's a foregone conclusion, so we won't spend much time on it. Everyone agrees someone with ZERO professional experience should not come out of college making more than that league veteran who has performed at Pro Bowl level for 10 years. The money saved with a rookie pay scale should go directly to the veteran players--both active and retired.
4. Age Limit--Currently, you can enter the NFL three years removed from high school. I propose to change it to four. If school isn't your thing, you can become semi-pro and play for the CFL or AFL. Or you can go to a newly added farm team, but you can't enter the NFL until 4 years removed from high school. For those who can manage school, finish your degree. Careers only average 3.5 years in the NFL, so you need something to go to when your playing days are over. The majority of players spend their collegiate career honing their skills for their profession of choice-- football. Having the chance to make big money after three years is too hard a temptation for many to pass up and get a degree. Almost every position could really use that Senior year of college. The only position for which I advocate "coming out early" is RB, because of the nature of the position.
5. Mediator--I think Roger Goodell has done a good job of wielding an iron fist and laying down the law. Tags (Paul Tagliabue) let many things slide when he was Commish, and someone had to clean it up a little. However, being judge, jury, and executioner doesn't mesh in my book. The same person that issued the penalty hears the appeal. "I thought about it and I agree with myself." No thanks. There needs to be a 3rd party mediator who hears all appeals. Furthermore, there needs to be a panel of current and former players and front office types who issue the punishments on every issue, from safety violations to drug abuse.
6. Contract Lengths--Whenever you or I hear "__ team signed __ player to a 10-year contract for $100 million+," in almost every circumstance we understand that contract will never be fully honored (with QB sometimes being the exception). Agents want to get that big number released to the press for notoriety's sake. Why bother with the charade? Even when the team wants to keep the player, the player gets cut and re-signed, or renegotiates a few different times. Why not just put a limit on veteran contracts to five or six years at most? I'd really argue for four years. In the first four years, the player BECOMES. The next four years sees the player in his prime. In years 9-12 the player is quite possibly on his "back nine", and should sign a deal with maybe more incentives and less guarantees.
7. Contract Limits--There is currently a 53-man roster. Add to that about 10 players who will likely end up on IR, and another 10 players that will cycle through the practice squad, and you have about 70 players a team will pay throughout the year--not counting benefits. If you take the salary cap and divide by just the 53, the average salary would come out to somewhere around $2 million per player. The greater majority of players on an active roster don't see the average. Most make at or slightly over veteran minimum. Your handful of superstars see all of the cap increases in their salaries. If Peyton Manning gets $20 million per year, 18 other players have to make less than their "fair" share. I believe no player should make more than 7% of the overall salary cap. This will ensure that all the players in the "middle" make better salaries. It will ensure that the MAJORITY of players see a salary increase when the salary cap increases-- not just the Peyton Mannings.
8. Profit Sharing and Expenses--I believe a portion of every player's salary should be invested right back into the business on a percentage basis. Much like you have the CHOICE to put aside __% towards 401 K and retirement. I think the players should invest 5% back into their business, and whatever growth the NFL sees, they get the same % in return, on top of their salary. Each player should be held equally responsible for growing the league and improving their facilities. As much as I believe the players should see every increase in revenue, I believe they should contribute to stadium funds. Every owner shall match the combined contributions of his players. It must equal __% of earned income. Fans already pay for too much-- if the NFL wants something, it should make a uniform effort to provide for itself. Players should be given ownership in the form of profit sharing, and they should be required to share the expenses. This would ensure full transparency.
9. Supplements--The FDA does not regulate dietary supplements. Their #1 priority is not the legality of the ingredients in OTC supplements as it pertains to the NFL's banned substance list. The NFL has a "24-hour hotline" a player can call if they are unsure about a supplement not on the approved list. Many only get an answering machine, and wait months to hear back. I can think of one occasion a player contacted this service, was told the substance was fine, while the NFL failed to mention it contained a banned substance during some of their tests for fear everyone would use it as an excuse for a failed test. This needs to be rectified.
10. OTAs and Minicamps--While this is another thing that will be changed, I want to spend a little time on it. As mentioned in Item #2, players are bigger, stronger, and faster. They train almost year-round. The offseason needs to see more alternative fitness regimens and less of the same motions on the same surfaces. A joint, tendon, or ligament can only take so much abuse. The majority of players report to camp in shape, when in decades past, camp was where they got into shape. Mini-camps and OTAs are more for the installation of new systems for rookies or FA additions - or a team that has changed a coordinator or coach. Steps should be taken to balance the wear on player's bodies. Many players train on their own, using alternative exercises and activities that improve their core muscles and balance as opposed to the same football motions they utilize during the season. A bigger push in this direction should be instituted.
11. Fines--When punishing players with fines, the fines shouldn't be a set amount. Instead, they should be a percentage of a player's gameday check. Infractions should be graded by tier. For example, a 3rd tier safety infraction should incur a 10% game-day check fine. A top tier violation should incur a 50% game-day check fine. The reasoning behind this line of thought came from a discussion I overheard concerning the NBA. A famous player used a slur and was fined $100,000. He makes multi-millions per year. A short while later, another player who made much less said the same word. That same fine would hurt him (punish) much more than the mega-star.
12. Injured Reserve--I think there should be two tiers of IR-- a season ending version, and a six-week version. Allow the team the use of the player's roster spot, give him a week or so to practice and get acclimated before activation, then release another player when your starter returns to the active roster.