By Eric Schmidt

On the heels of Federal Judge Susan Nelson‘s ruling yesterday which lifts the NFL owner imposed lockout, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote an op-ed published in today’s Wall Street Journal. Goodell paints a bleak outlook of what the landscape of professional football might look like if the league proceeds without a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Throughout this process over the last few months, both parties involved have been posturing themselves to try to win the hearts and minds of the fans of the game. Today’s column by Mr. Goodell is another attempt to do that.

Roger Goodell writes of an NFL with unbridled free agency, no salary cap-and thus no salary floor, no league-wide rules governing the teams, and most of all, the possibility of no draft. The Commissioner makes some valid points, but I have to take issue with a few of his arguments.

From Mr. Goodell’s piece-

No minimum team payroll. Some teams could have $200 million payrolls while others spend $50 million or less.

Even with a salary cap, certain teams push the extremes at both ends, the cap and the floor. Spending insane amounts of money does not produce winning teams on the field, simply ask Daniel Snyder how many Super Bowls he’s won while owning the Washington Redskins. Or ask the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays or the 2010 Texas Rangers how they reached the World Series despite having to play the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had one of the lowest salaries in the NFL, fielding the youngest team and were a 3 point overtime loss to the Detroit Lions away from knocking the Green Bay Packers out of the playoffs.

No limits on free agency. Players and agents would team up to direct top players to a handful of elite teams. Other teams, perpetually out of the running for the playoffs, would serve essentially as farm teams for the elites.

As if this doesn’t already occur.

No league-wide rule limiting the length of training camp or required off-season workout obligations. Each club would have its own policies.

Haven’t Mr. Goodell and the NFL owners already proposed shortening the length of training camp already in exchange for a 17 week regular season? OTA schedules should be up to each team.Last season, the Oakland Raiders lost some of their OTA days because players complained that the practices under Tom Cable were “too physical”.

No draft. “Why should there even be a draft?” said player agent Brian Ayrault. “Players should be able to choose who they work for. Markets should determine the value of all contracts. Competitive balance is a fallacy.”

The NFL Draft has become a spectacle. When I was a child following football, the draft was something which was held and you never knew who selected what player until you read about it in the paper the next day. It has blossomed into a now, televised three-day event creating millions of dollars for those involved. Ratings were huge for the league-owned NFL Network last season in their prime-time coverage. Why not allow players to select where they want to play? That sort of environment wouldn’t necessarily create a wild free-for-all spending craze, teams will only have so much money to spend. The current draft structure and high amounts of rookie guaranteed money actually punish the teams which pick in the top five spots of the draft. College production does not always translate into NFL production (see JaMarcus Russell) and sometimes little or no college production translates into NFL success (see Matt Cassel). So what if Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys decide to throw $100 million in guaranteed money at three top draft “prospects”? That doesn’t translate into on-field success. I see this scenario as no different than the current structure of the draft, it all comes down to your team having great coaches and talent evaluators heading into the process.

Mr Goodell writes of his concern for small market teams and their ability to compete in this proposed New World Order of the NFL and those teams opportunity to field competitive teams. “A league where the competitive ability of teams in smaller communities (Buffalo, New Orleans, Green Bay and others) is forever cast into doubt by blind adherence to free-market principles that favor teams in larger, better-situated markets?” I don’t believe an uncapped, free-for-all league will damage the small market teams any more than they are already damaged. Why was the league discussing re-location of an NFL franchise to Los Angeles while working under the framework of the prior CBA? Would a new CBA suddenly cause the Buffalo Bills to stop playing a “home” game in Toronto? The Green Bay Packers play in one of the smallest markets in the league, but they are also one of the oldest franchises in the league. They will continue to exist with or without a CBA.

The NFL owners allowed this situation to happen. They allowed the previous CBA to expire in 2009 and played the 2010 season as an uncapped year. So what if free agency looks like the wild west and teams can spend as much or as a little as they want? The individuals who own these clubs are obviously smart business people, or else they would not be owning an NFL franchise. Spending potentially $300 million a year on a roster doesn’t equal Super Bowl wins. I grew up watching football before there was a CBA in the NFL. In the 1970′s, the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers dominated the game. In the last decade, the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers represented the AFC in seven of the last 10 Super Bowls, while operating under a CBA, and the whole premise of a CBA is to maintain that the small market teams have an equal, competitive position?

As both sides continue to wrangle over winning the hearts and minds of the fans, the fans struggle to meet their bills with skyrocketing fuel and food costs and they are growing tired of billionaires fighting with millionaires while packs of attorneys continue to fill their pockets. We simply want our game back.

 

 

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