As the players and the league await a ruling in the hours or days to come from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, the players are looking for a “victory” in which the current lockout would be lifted. But, sometimes you have to be wary of getting what you wish for.
The question of whether the players’ motion to have the lockout lifted and the NFL resuming business may not be what players will actually want, especially if you’re a player like Ray Edwards and Sidney Rice.
Under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement, players were eligible to become free agents after four years. However, when the owners opted out of the CBA, the 2010 business year had a couple of significant changes. First, it eliminated the salary cap, which kept the competitive balance alive and well by refusing to allow a rogue owner to spend $200 million to buy a championship like George Steinbrenner did for years in Major League Baseball. With no salary-cap ceiling, there is also no salary cap floor. On the other side of things, a miserly owner doesn’t have to spend up to the cap minimum, meaning if owners want to take the chance of colluding to get their share of the revenue money back, they might not spend up to the old minimum amount.
Perhaps more importantly for about 200 players, when the owners got out of the CBA, the provisions in the agreement moved the free-agent minimum from four years of service to six. Players like Edwards, who would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency prior to the 2010 season, were stuck with their current teams and the “low-ball” tendered offers they were given. On the open market, Edwards might have made $6 million a year with an eight-digit guaranteed money package. With the Vikings, he made less than $2 million.
If the appeals court rules to lift the lockout, business will resume while the case goes through the courts, but the league will almost surely go through with how business was being done before talks broke down, the union decertified and the lockout began. What would a lifting of the lockout mean? Most likely that the league would go back to the rules it was under when the lockout began.
That could mean a the return to the 2010 post-CBA status. There would be no salary cap and there would be the six-year free agency requirement. If the owners are looking to break the player solidarity from within, having a large segment of the players denied unrestricted free agency wouldn’t sit well.
We should find out this week whether or not the owners will have the lockout maintained, but, as hard as it might be to believe, the players may be better suited to have the lockout continue, serious negotiations take place and a new agreement drafted that would reinstate the salary cap and the four-year free agent limit. As it currently stands, there are going to be a lot of players upset, especially those looking to get their first big contract – like Rice and Edwards.
If the lockout is lifted, there will be momentarily rejoicing from fans and players, who will likely claim victory. But it will be a victory that comes with a price, especially for those who are fourth- or fifth-year players. They will become casualties of the labor impasse, and for guys who just finished their fifth season, they will become casualties for a second time.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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