How great is it to finally watch football again? Even if it is only the first weekend of pre-season games, football is back. Watching the games reminds us of how exciting, memorable and thoroughly enjoyable the NFL is and almost makes us forget the tumultuous, almost suicidal past half year that everyone associated with the game suffered through with the league’s ill-planned, self destructive lockout.
However, now that the dust has settled on the lockout and football is back, what is left is to expose some of the casualties of the lockout and the new collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the players.
The list of lockout casualties must start with the young, undrafted free agent players trying to not only gain a foothold in the league but make a career for themselves. Economics aside, the detrimental impact on developing young players in the NFL is staggering, i.e. condensed off-seasons, no two-a-days during camp, limited pads/contact practices, no developmental spring league such as old NFLE, and 2011 transition year with no offseason at all. There seems to be little talk about the impact of the new agreement on developing your roster, rather it has mostly been centered on money, benefits and player safety.
The next group of ill affected people include the fans of the historically cheap, fiscally irresponsible teams who refuse to spend money and would rather win on the bottom line as opposed to the field. The new CBA only requires teams to spend 90 percent of the cap starting in 2013. For the 2011 and 2012 seasons teams have no mandatory minimum to spend on players. Thus some teams will continue to sacrifice on field success for bottom line success at the expense of their loyal fan bases whose undying loyalties will be abused for the ownerships gains.
Another category of casualties includes the second and third tier of veteran free agents in 2011. This group of players waited at first four years to attain the lucrative title of “NFL free agent” and then had to wait another year for this designation in 2010 only to watch and wait as its lucrative markets dissipated as the blackout continued though the spring and right up to the commencement of training camps. This significant delay combined with a diminished salary cap benefited the top level of free agents but severally damaged the second and third tiers of players. A historical “seller’s” market on players turned into a “buyer’s” market where veteran players were either left out in the cold or playing at or near the veteran minimum salaries.
Another group adversely affected are the NFL teams who planned for an increasing cap. Teams spent over $130 million in cap in both 2009 and 2010. Now the cap is $120.3 in 2011 and 2012. This might have a further diminishing effect on the second and third tier free agents as Teams built contracts in prior years with the expectation that the cap would increase every year.
Another casualty were the injured players of NFL teams from 2010. These players were denied the valuable opportunity to rehabilitate either from 2010 season injuries or past seasons surgeries and this failure severally stunted their rehabilitation and health. Mere convenient compassion by the NFL in terms of assisting human beings regain health regardless of the business tactics and disagreements is never appropriate. The injured players who were not properly treated for the past six months are now either starting the 2011 campaign on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list or practicing with incomplete rehabilitation making it that much more difficult for them to make a 53-man roster.
Of course the greatest casualties of the war were the first-round draft choices who saw their compensation and guaranteed money deflated by over 50 percent and their ability to negotiate individual deals based upon their positions and impact on their drafting teams dramatically decreased. This was a sacrifice that was almost as great as the one mentioned by General Marshall for the good of the veterans and owners of the league and one cries out for reform in the future. The new system does not even include a premium for premium positions such as quarterback, etc., for draft picks. Cam Newton will play the first four years of his career at less than half of what Sam Bradford will make and ostensibly less than two thirds of what two thirds of the starting quarterbacks in the league will earn, and he was considered the best pro prospect in the country.
So while it is fantastic and exciting to have the NFL back and the lockout an ill-fated nightmare in our past; there remain casualties of this maneuver that will continue on as the season progresses.