|Ann Heisenfelt / Associated Press|
|The Metrodome's collapse made clear the Vikings' need for a new stadium. The lockout complicates things.|
The future of franchises, and cities' ability to house them, is on the line in these CBA negotiations.
"Absolutely, yes, there could be an impact from the CBA, and I suspect there will be," said Marc Ganis, president of SportsCorp Ltd. and an experienced advisor to the league and teams in these matters. "In both cases, in order to build new stadiums, some form of G3 money will be needed, and that's only available in a collective bargaining agreement. If they go forward without a CBA, by court order, it's far less likely that $100 million or $150 million in funding for teams will be available."
Ganis' "No CBA scenario" plays out if the NFLPA is granted its injunction, and a court battle ensues as football is played without a new CBA, which could take years to sort out (it did in the late 1980s and early '90s.) If there's no CBA, quite simply, there's no league-sponsored funding to help build teams' new places.
The good news for Minnesotans and San Diegans, among others, is that since it makes it hard for cities to build stadiums, there will be fewer options for teams like the Vikings and Chargers to run to. The bad news is that, without a new stadium for their teams, the future will remain cloudy for both.
So if there is a new CBA, there will be important things for folks in those cities to look for.
First is the reinstitution of the aforementioned G3 fund, which would provide teams with loans to build stadiums, and helped support the building boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Giants, Jets and Cowboys were the last to benefit from that, and while the loans had been limited to $150 million, the league bent the number to $300 million for the New Meadowlands Stadium ($300 million per team).
Second is the exemption that helped teams fray the cost of the stadiums, which provide waivers on the visiting-team share of personal seat licenses and some premium seating. Generally, teams have to yield one-third of the gate to the road club. But to help promote growth, the league allows clubs to keep all the money from some of those areas to assist in paying for the stadium.
Those things only exist in a new CBA, and Ganis thinks they would since that kind of thing is good for everyone. If there's not a CBA, well, then it's more tenuous times in cities needing new football venues.
As Ganis says, "This is among the reasons these negotiations are so important."
Backwards thinking necessary
The possibility still exists that free agency could, indeed, begin before the draft. That is, if the injunction to lift the lockout is granted, and the league is forced to move quickly to start the 2011 league year.
But for now, teams are preparing for the draft to come first, which changes the team-building process for everyone.
"It'll be a different dynamic, but I think the two phases just flipped," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo told me. "There are three ways to improve your football team. Get the guys better that are on the team right now, and then through free agency and through the draft. One used to come before the other. You used to have free agency, have some of those needs met. It's just gonna be the other way around now."
So how would that affect teams? Let's look at some examples.
The 49ers are expected to be in the hunt for Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb, and they hold the seventh overall pick in the draft. Say Missouri's Blaine Gabbert falls to them, which isn't exactly the most outrageous scenario in the world. And say Jim Harbaugh likes Gabbert and Kolb.
In the old system, Harbaugh would've been able to make a decision on Kolb, while having the idea of drafting a quarterback in the background. Maybe he gets Kolb, and then drafts Robert Quinn to fill another hole. Now, in this new system, he'd have to make the call on Gabbert without knowing whether or not he'll be able to win the Kolb sweepstakes.
It does, of course, work in reverse, as well. If he decided the price was too high on Kolb, there's no guarantee the quarterback he wanted would fall to him in the draft.
But the larger point is this: Teams will enter the draft with less flexibility. Normally, you can use free agency to plug holes, and that allows teams to draft less chained to their needs.
"Free agency is completely needs-based -- If you need a safety, you go get one," said one AFC personnel director. "In the draft, sometimes you go get 'best available,' sometimes you fill a need. But you're hoping early on that you can go get the 'best available.' So if that specific need can't be filled in free agency, how does that affect you? Will that force teams to think about needs more? Now, you're staring at the draft with a specific need? It could affect the best available-vs.-need argument."
Chances are, as things stand right now, that's exactly what it will do.
The first step toward the April 6 hearing in Brady et al vs. the National Football League et al came this week with the league's 57-page filing, which will get a response from the lead plaintiffs of the class on Monday.
But since I'd expect most fans won't exactly put those papers on their "required reading" list, we can boil it down to two major points that will be important in the NFL's movement to block an injunction. They are...
A) The matter of primary jurisdiction. The NFL's claim is that without the National Labor Relations Board's ruling on whether or not the union's decertification is a sham, the court in Minnesota can't move forward and rule on a possible injunction. To simplify the reason why: The NFLPA's contention is that, by renouncing its rights as a union, its members are not subject to a lockout, because that would prevent individuals from working. The NFL is saying that the NLRB's ruling on whether the decertification is valid or not must come first.
B) The Norris-Laguardia Act. This particular one reads: "No court of the United States shall have jurisdiction to issue any restraining order or temporary or permanent injunction on any case involving or growing out of any labor dispute. â¦" And the NFL's claim is that, though the NFLPA decertified, this remains the result of a labor dispute.
As I said, the NFLPA gets its chance to argue back on Monday. Then, they go before Judge Susan Nelson, and we start to get some answers soon after that.
1. Bowers too fragile?
The case of Da'Quan Bowers underscores perhaps the most underrated part of the draft process: A prospect's health. As the public gasps at a kid's ability to run and lift and jump at the Indianapolis combine, the most important tests are taking place in the back rooms where the physicals are given and cameras aren't allowed. In case you missed it, the Clemson defensive end was reported to have knee issues that were driving him down draft boards and delaying his pro day workout. Bowers' agent, Joe Flanagan, shot back at the validity of those reports in a statement on Thursday. What's really interesting is the kind of reversal of importance there is with this aspect of the pre-draft ringer in comparison to a player's ability. Ability is tested in February, March and April, but best measured by a player's collegiate history. Injury is measured in a player's collegiate history, but best tested in February, March and April. In the end, amazing as it sounds, how those physicals go might be the most vital thing in these pre-draft months.
2. Cowboys at an unfair advantage?
The investigation into rules violations by five teams, stemming from breaches of contact policies, is an interesting one. Cowboys players said earlier in the offseason that they met with new coordinator Rob Ryan and had playbooks. Here's the thing: It's hard to see where potential punishment would keep anyone in a situation like that (new coordinator breaking in a new system) from privately saying it was worth it. If Ryan had a chance to meet with the players, and hand them playbooks, and tell them what he wanted from them, then those guys would have, potentially, months ahead on where they would be under the rules. Say the lockout lasts into training camp, and say Cowboys players organize workouts on their own (totally permissible) and work on the system. Then, Dallas gets a headstart and can hit the ground running, where a team like St. Louis, who asked and was told they couldn't do the same with Josh McDaniels, doesn't. I'm not trying to pick on Dallas, since I'm not positive they've been fingered or fined by the league (one Cowboys source said he wasn't aware of a fine), or defend St. Louis. Those are just examples, but they could be poignant ones once the CBA is worked out.
3. Muir, Zorn become crucial to Chiefs
One thing I took away from talking with Chiefs coach Todd Haley in New Orleans is that he really thinks people are underestimating his new offensive coordinator, Bill Muir, who was promoted from line coach after Charlie Weis bolted to run Florida's offense. Muir has been an NFL coach for 33 years, and one thing Haley cited was the rare quality he brings of having been both an offensive and defensive coordinator in the pro game. His work will be important, too, as will that of new quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn. Haley also mentioned how inexperienced Cassel really is, from a snaps-perspective, because he was a backup for all of college and his first three years as a pro. "Matt is maybe ahead of where a young guy would be," Haley said. "I know he's going to work, and I know he's going to do anything asked of him. That's what's exciting." And while that's good, it also implicitly spells out how important the work of Muir and Zorn will be.
4. Simpler is better?
In Philadelphia, new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is expected to install a system that will be simpler, in an effort to get players playing fast. Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio made comments this week that Jacksonville would do the same. All of that is interesting, given the dynamics of this offseason. With the potential for teams to have a lot less time with the players, it could put clubs like the Jaguars and Eagles at an advantage. The less teaching there needs to be, the faster a team can work through camp, and the more efficiently it can use its time and the more quality reps it can get. At the very least, the approach should lead to better practices in the confined time teams might have to get their players ready for game action. Ideally, you have continuity, and teams that do should be at a big advantage. But if change was needed, this is the kind that might work best in 2011.
5. The NFL and hGH testing
Interesting news late Thursday from my buddy Alex Marvez over at FOXSports.com, who has NFL drug-testing czar Adolpho Birch saying the league will insist on testing for human growth hormone in the next CBA. While some might say that blood testing is invasive, the real stumbling block here should be the reliability of the tests. You can question whether or not that's the real motive for some athletes wanting no part of hGH testing. But it's hard not to see where that part of it -- the reliability factor -- would be a concern. Thing is, there have been major strides and breakthroughs in that department of late, and this kind of testing is now hitting the sport, with the Canadian Football League set to adopt hGH screening this season. It makes sense, then, for the NFL to soon follow suit and, if for nothing more than public relations reasons, this might be one the players should be careful in fighting.
Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer