Monday, October 11, 2010

NFL Armageddon 2011 – Countdown to a catastrophe

The National Football League enjoyed another great weekend, filled with record ratings and for the most part filled stadiums. Five cites experienced what has become an alarming trend in 2010 – the blackout blues.

Off the field Brett Favre’s trials and tribulations dominated the pregame coverage leading into last night’s Monday Night Football game in New Jersey against the New York Jets.

Several issues relating to the most important issue the NFL is facing – the real risk of labor Armageddon – continued to create the inevitable firestorm the league will face moments after the Lombardi Trophy is presented to the Super Bowl winner at Dallas Cowboys Stadium on February 7, 2011.

Washington Post reporter Mark Maske reported the NFL Players Association is preparing a possible collusion case accusing teams of improperly conspiring to restrict players' salaries last offseason. Maske suggested the grievance could be filed within the next 30 days – another certain sign the NFLPA is getting ready to play a very serious game with NFL owners.

According to Maske, “the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players' union prohibits a team from entering "into any agreement, express or implied" with another team "to restrict or limit" contract negotiations with players or players' salaries.”

NFLPA spokesperson George Atallah, the union's assistant executive director of external affairs, admits the NFLPA is looking at all of their “options” (as makes sense) but refused to outline what – if anything – is the plan of action relating to a collusion case.

The NFLPA appears to be paying attention to whatever comments made by NFL management types (and that includes coaches) make. Wednesday, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis directed some very combative comments at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Lewis, according to an ESPN.com report, “ripped the Buccaneers when he was asked about receiver Dezmon Briscoe,” who was drafted in the sixth-round by the Bengals this year. Briscoe was cut at the end of the preseason and the Bengals planned to bring him back to their practice squad at the standard salary of around $80,000.

The Buccaneers, however, stepped in and made an unusual move. They signed Briscoe to their practice squad, but they did it for the $325,000 minimum salary for players on the active roster.

"When you overpay a guy on the practice squad, you create a problem for teams,'' Lewis said.”I don't know that teams want to set that precedent and they did with Dez.

"That's not a great precedent for teams to set as we try to keep the NFL and doing the things we're trying to do as a league. It's still a league of 32 teams and things are put together a certain way.''

Is it about what NFL players are being paid? Consider these facts based on the 2009 NFL season (the most recently completed NFL season):

The average NFL salary was a shade under $1.8 million in 2009, but that can be a misleading number. Less than a quarter of the roughly 1,800 NFL players made that amount last year, and less than half make a million dollars per season.

At the end of the day, the NFL isn't nearly the "easy money" venue that many fans think. The majority of players never even see a million dollars for their career. Yet, a select few do end up quite rich.

• The Base Salary: The league minimum is $295,000, according to the NFL Players Association. That money is guaranteed for any player who is on an active roster for at least three games.

• The Average Base Salary: The average base salary was $990,000, but players can make much more money than that, according to an analysis of NFL salary databases.

• The Average Signing Bonus: Signing bonuses are the ways that most players make their money. The average signing bonus for all players is $1.34 million, which is a large number considering that almost 600 players don't have one in their current contract.

• Other Bonuses: Players can sign various other bonuses into their contracts, which unlike signing bonuses, count as part of the total salary. That average was $440,000 during the 2008 season.

• Salaries Per Team: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent a little more than $1.4 million per player in the 2008 season. That included 37 players making more than $1 million. The Green Bay Packers had the lowest median average at $640,000.

• The Fine Print: While many of the salaries look gigantic compared to the average paycheck, these are not guaranteed. That means the money vanishes as soon as a player is cut, retires or leaves the team.

"The greatest trap is trying to live up to the expectation of the NFL," said Troy Vincent, a former cornerback and union president who recently became the league's vice president of player development, in a USA Today report. "The perception has been built up over the years with video games, commercials and the glitz of the NFL. And for so many guys, once they get here, they think, 'I've arrived.'

"Well, the average salary might be $1.9 million, but that's including Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb and Tom Brady. Most of the players earn a lot less."

"Playing in the NFL and making a lot of money is like a dream come true," Carl Carey, agent for Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, who signed a six-year contract in March that could be worth $91.5 million, told the USA Today. "They're probably not wanting to hear about pitfalls, but they should."

A three year career average, contracts are not guaranteed and most players cast aside the moment their careers end – don’t kid, for anyone playing on Sunday it may be the greatest accomplishment a football player can earn, but as men and athletes the toll on their bodies and minds is terrible.

"When I see guys introduced at the draft, I think of all the hands trying to get into his pockets," Ken Ruettgers told the USA Today, who played for 12 seasons with the Green Bay Packers after being drafted in the first round in 1985, and founded GamesOver.org. "There are agents, advisers, fitness gurus, nutritionists, family, friends, neighbors. Anybody trying to sell something. It can be overwhelming."

Keyshawn Johnson knows all too well the life and afterlife of an NFL player. After 11 seasons in which he earned more than $50 million, he ended up at ESPN as an analyst and is an investor in ventures including real estate and franchise restaurants. He's also a man who dropped $100,000 for his post-draft bash in 1996 at a House of Blues. Over the years, he has warned young players of how quickly a $1 million bonus check can shrink.

"After Uncle Sam comes first, your agent is going to get his cut," Johnson said. "Then there's your wife, girlfriend or baby's mama. You're going to hook up your family and homeboys and get yourself some nice things, like jewellery or some sweet tire rims.

"By the time you've done all of that, you'd be lucky to have $320,000 left."

The league continues to spin their own web – their own version of what the truth is and how it is to be told to football fans. The Pittsburgh Tribune Review reported that a delegation led by embattled former union president Troy Vincent and former NFL Alumni director George Martin sought to mix mandatory "life skills" teaching with lobbying for the owners.

"Doesn't matter what the meeting was for, players around the league know what this is about," Clark said.

NFL officials, however, say Clark and his union made inaccurate conclusions about the session. The meeting was held last week when the Steelers voted unanimously to decertify.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told The Tribune Review that no labor issues were discussed except when standout safety Troy Polamalu asked the panel what it was like going through the two labor strikes in the 1980s.

"It is one thing to disagree about issues," Aiello said. "It's quite another to distort facts in a way that demeans former players and former NFLPA leaders. There is no place for that in these discussions."

Sports Illustrated published a report last year that suggested in no uncertain terms the life of an NFL player is anything but the image of glitz and glamour most football fans believe their gridiron heroes experience.

According to S.I. "78 percent of NFL players will become bankrupt, divorced or unemployed within two years of retirement. League and union officials say they can't verify that staggering figure. Yet mindful that many patterns that lead to financial ruin begin early – it’s not uncommon for draft picks to accumulate six-figure debt before signing their first contract – they acknowledge concern."

Collusion issues aside – the life of an NFL player is short and not very sweet.

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: USA Today, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review

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