The new collective bargaining agreement has been drafted. It is yet to be published for all to see, and each day new details are leaking out, despite the gag order put in place by federal mediator Arthur Boylan. I am sure someone more qualified and "in the know" will come along with the nuts and bolts of the new deal within the next week. However, while good things come to those who wait, I'm anxious to discuss some of the leaked changes we know about.
Specifically, I'd like to speculate (and hear your opinion) on how some of the changes will affect the NFL. I am not concerned with how the revenue is split or what is shared and what is not; we've spent an off-season picking those points apart and when it's all said and done, it has little affect on the product we will see on Sundays. Instead, below we'll discuss the type of changes that will affect player acquisitions and off-season activities -- how a team is able to sustain itself by keeping or adding players as well as training them to make contributions in season.
Each team will be allowed nine OTA practices instead of 14. Helmets and pads will only be allowed in three of the practices.
In training camp, two-a-days will still be permissible, but limited. In addition, the afternoon practice will be in shorts only -- no pads and no helmets.
Each team will be allowed only three minicamps. New coaches will be allowed one extra.
The off-season training -- supervised strength and conditioning, or "voluntary workouts," players get work-out bonuses for attending will begin somewhere between April 15 and May 1, as opposed to March 15 in years past.
Training camp rosters will be expanded from 80 players to 90 players.
Verdict: Chalk one up for player safety. Personally, I think alternative training regimens should be a focus, in addition to limiting the "in pads" activity that utilizes the same football motions on the same surfaces year round. Rookies and second year players are at a disadvantage with these new off-season changes, as well as teams with changes in the coaching staff. Will that second year player make the same progression or jump in production once the season begins? Will that UDFA make the roster with even less full speed experience? Play has to be instinctual -- you can't stop and think, you have to react instantly with a trained reaction. What affects do you think these changes will have on younger players who didn't get many reps in training camp to begin with?
Rookie Pay Scale
Rookie wage system. The exact formula isn't known, but the high picks in the first round will see the total value of their deals and the guaranteed money reduced by as much as 40-50 percent. Players in rounds 2 through 7 will be virtually unchanged, and they will receive four-year contracts.
For first-round picks, the owners originally wanted five-year deals, a notion the players rejected. A fifth-year option was proposed, which the owners wanted put at a set price.
The eventual agreement has picks 1-10 having an option equal to the average salaries of the 10 highest-paid players at their position. The option for players selected from 11 to 32 will have a value equal to the average salaries of players ranked 3-25 at their position.
The decision on the option must be exercised after the third season, and the average salaries will be computed based on the year before. As a tradeoff for how the option year was calculated, the players agreed that no first-round pick can have his contract renegotiated until after the third year.
Verdict: It's about time. You'll find no detracting from me concerning this issue. In terms of how will it affect the building of teams, I believe it will be easier to keep that veteran player who is a leader in the locker room; that guy who will take the youngsters under his wing and teach them how to be a professional. Teams will have an easier time keeping the balance of experience and youth. Once the salary cap settles over the next few years, you'll see less cap casualties and more older players staying where they belong. Players who have earned their money have a much better chance of keeping it, and the players who haven't won't be so hard to part ways with if they never do. Oh, and no more hold-outs based on money (you still might get a player a la Bo Jackson not wanting to play for the team that drafted him). Win-win.
Once a player reaches four years of service, he will become and unrestricted free agent (assuming he's not a first round draft choice whose option has been exercised).
Teams can not negotiate a contract extension (with first contract players) until the third year of an original contract is fulfilled (assuming a player has a four or five year contract).
Minimum salaries will see increases across the board. As is, each year of service a player accrues raises his veteran minimum. The minimum for one year players, two year players and on up will be raised.
Verdict: I've always believed that baring injury, you pretty much know what a player is going to be after year three. Just take a look at the 2008 draft. Go down the list and decide who you would re-sign to a lucrative deal, who you'd let walk, and who you'd want to bring back with a short term incentive based contract -- it won't be hard. I am happy to see the veteran minimum raised. This ensures that all revenue increases don't just go directly into Peyton Manning's pockets (or insert big name player on any team) when he gets a new contract. Being forbidden by the CBA to renegotiate or extend a contract until three years will put an end to hold-outs and ugly gesturing we see sometimes in the off-season by players who've just experienced a great season and want more money now.
Issues Awaiting Clarification
Arbitration: It was last proposed that the players would give up judicial oversight for an overhaul of the arbitration system. Fines and penalties for bad conduct may now be reviewed by a three judge panel featuring retired judges mutually appointed by both the NFL and NFLPA. No word yet if this was set in stone. The issue has little bearing on how a team is built, but it would be nice to see fair arbitration as opposed to the judge, jury, and executioner who also hears the appeals in the form of Roger Goodell. One of my favorite movie quotes sums up what I think occurs: "I thought about it, and I agree with myself."
Tags and Tenders: It is still unclear as to whether or not the Franchise Tag will have a one time use per player or remain at a limit of three uses. Also cloudy is the number of tags a team will have at its disposal. We're not sure if any changes will take place with the tenders and the associated compensation teams can place on restricted free agents (RFA's).
Roster Limits: The NFL did a good thing in expanding training camp rosters from a maximum of 80 players to 90 players. I hope a new CBA includes an expansion in the 53 man roster, the eight man practice squad and 45 player game-day active roster. At the very least, they should be expanded for this particular season due to the absence of a normal off-season.
Injured Reserve: Wouldn't it be nice if a player placed on IR wasn't lost for the year? Under the old CBA, the only option a team had to play an injured player who was placed on IR then later became healthy was to cut him and give him an injury settlement, then re-sign him to a new contract. Jamal Brown might have came in handy for the Saints during the 2009 playoffs.
We've waited a long time to get to this point. The new CBA doesn't look much different than the old one, and it should have never taken this long to complete, considering none of the changes are earth-shattering. Anger aside, almost all changes look like win-wins. The only one that may have significant affect on what we see each Sunday is the reduction in padded off-season workouts. On one hand, players will be more fresh. On the other, players are less accountable to teams (and more to themselves) to come into camp and OTA's in proper shape (I don't mean round). What are your observations and unanswered questions?