NFL Lockout: And When NFL Owners & Players Clash - The Cradle Will Rock

Whenever a resolution is reached, the breaking news that follows will come in a storm

Like an impending tsunami, a great shock has sent a wave of turmoil, initially a ripple below the surface, but now a bundle of pressure and energy rushing to crash upon the shore. The NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement is reportedly in the final stages of the negotiation process with legal ramifications looming. As was said by Marc Blitzstein (so apropos), Orson Welles, and proclaimed in more recent productions of "The Cradle Will Rock" - another tale of power and money forcing clashes between unions and corporations - "And when the storm breaks, the cradle will rock!"

While it may be years before the full ramifications become clear, there will be an immediate period that will reward teams with the stability, ability, and management to navigate the murky waters in the wake of a new CBA. Assuming, of course, the reports of an impending deal hold true and we soon hear the good news. In a perfect world, a public announcement would precede the July 19th date with the honorable Judge Boylan where the NFL owners and soon-to-be-again NFLPA will explain the outcomes of successful mediation. Those seemingly venomous attorneys will become the swift steeds of good news and bearers of settled litigation - and the official NFL "Rule Book."     

It has been reported teams will likely get 72 hours to re-sign their free agents once the pressure-cooked and eagerly awaited grand re-opening of the 2011 NFL season kicks off. But last minute concessions and new salary cap rules and exemptions could further fuel the flurry of personnel moves in the (knock on wood) days to come. By the time the players, well-off owners, and frustrated owners, not to mention the attorneys, shake it all up and then write it all down, subtle phrasing from agreements made during long days of negotiations could lead to some interesting results for the league. One such fault line lies in the signing and releasing of players and the new ‘salary-capology.'

With a 72 hour exclusive-rights period for teams to resign their own free agents, there will be a scramble to brush off the dust collected on contract offers while the league was locked out. Suddenly, weeks' worth of scheduling will be crammed into three furious days of meetings and calls with agents to strike quick deals before the free agent market opens and brings with it the frenzy of a stock exchange floor. Teams will be forced to make decisions before the FA market candidates are even fully flushed out.

On the other hand, players wanting to hit the market need only to wait it out and a few teams desperate for their players will have to create some breathing room or be forced to max out their credit-cap card. And new salary cap rules could lead to some unexpected but desirable personnel moves if certain exceptions are allowed during this ‘transitioning period' to a new CBA, especially for the Cowboys. It could lead to some players getting pink-slips before the ink on the CBA dries and others within days of the facility doors being unlocked. And let's not underestimate the time and effort that will go into understanding the new terms of the CBA. Grasping the in-and-outs of the new cap rules and possible loopholes will be paramount. The front office staffs, including those faced with pay cuts during the lockout, will be working more than overtime.

We continue to hear the 2011 salary cap will likely be around $120 million, yet no one can really be certain of what that means for their team. There is a lot of "funny money" that bounces back and forth between owner bank accounts and team salary cap calculations. A great explanation was provided by BTB's own O.C.C. describing the cap consequences of releasing some Cowboys players and how the numbers work between base salary and rules of prorated signing bonuses. KD, explains how even reworking existing contracts with large upfront signing bonuses could create cap space for a team like the Cowboys with the franchise players and an owner with cash to spend. 

The basic concept is that star players earn huge signing bonuses and owners pay that money upfront, but their team is technically paying yearly installments as it concerns the salary cap. Releasing players and re-signing players can thus shift salary cap numbers in strange ways. The old CBA not only had the "funny money" of prorated bonuses blurring the books, but also "fake money" based on incentive bonuses that players could reach, even some incentives made impossible to reach so that frugal teams could sometimes bolster their salary floor numbers. But what we knew then may not be what occurs moving forward, since the new CBA could provide teams a chance at carte blanche - clean slate - in matters concerning players released during the transition to the new CBA. An almost likely outcome when we consider the politics involved at the negotiation table.

Well-off Owners: These mighty men of industry are owners of teams with a strong franchise history, more than enough working capital to cover their debts, and the will and the means to maintain the prosperous growth of both the team and the NFL. They may also be the most frustrated with the current state of the lockout since their real problem, sharing their lion's-share of produced revenue with the frustrated owners, is not likely to be resolved with the outcome of this CBA. However, they can still find ways to prosper. These savvy businessmen will be eying the rewards to be earned during the transition into the 2011 season, always looking to keep their team in the hunt for a Super Bowl. Usually competitive teams with salaries near the cap ceiling - while lowering player salaries will always be a boon to owners - these are the owners who are also negatively affected by a lower salary cap number. Finding a way to forgive "dead money"  - large signing bonuses paid with real money owed in salary cap figures for underperforming players - due under the rules of the old CBA by releasing players before the effective date of the new CBA would seem a high priority.

Frustrated Owners: Those that struggle most with player salaries, as league revenues increase (helped greatly by the well-off owners) these owners face salary cap increases and mounting debts that end up outpacing earnings while constricting the finances of their (questionably managed or small market) teams. While unbending in their need to reduce the salary cap numbers moving forward, the raising of the salary cap floor is also a great concern so they would never try to force the write-off of "fake money" and may even look forward to the burden of "dead money" contracts. They are clever enough, however, to not bite the hands that feed them. As long as they don't have to release players and lose dead or fake money towards their salary cap, they should be on board with exceptions to be allowed during the transition.      

Players: Already facing a lower share of total revenue and thus lower salary cap figures, the players will be strongly pressing real money matters in the new capology. "Fake money" is an issue, but players will never try to press the existence of incentive-based bonuses, so boosting real money into the cap floor can only be assured by actually raising the floor. Now, forgiveness of "dead money" is a way to help players earn more real money that would get squeezed in under the salary cap, but it comes at a cost.

Depending how and when this wording was agreed upon, the players may not notice that this would result in a bevy of released veterans at the start of the 2011 season. Perhaps it will be a concession by players if they are willing to accept the transition releases in return for the real money to be made in the massive FA market, or needing some additional bargaining chips for other negotiable concerns.

Such an outcome would considerably change the landscape for the immediate future of the Dallas Cowboys and the 2011 landscape that Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones have been considering. Suddenly, past contract mistakes and burdensome salaries could be set free instead of coming home to roost. Marion Barber, Roy Williams, Leonard Davis, Terence Newman, tons of cap space, the results could be cathartic.

No one knows when or if a new deal will be struck. But there are many points of interest frantically being considered and negotiated as deadlines loom. The outcomes of the new CBA could lead to some very interesting days to come - and when the storm breaks, the cradle will rock.

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