If you thought a 3-13 season for the Rams sucked, imagine a season without the NFL's salary cap. Far fetched? No, after the NFL owners voted unanimously to opt out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement this morning, that's tentatively what the league could face in 2010 before a possible lock out in 2011.
Now, before you start prepping that shelter under your house, know that the owners and the players union still have plenty of time to work on a new deal. Commissioner Goodell said as much:
"We are not in dire straits. We've never said that. But the agreement isn't working, and we're looking to get a more fair and equitable deal."
Bottom line for the owners, it's the economy stupid. Or, more specifically, these three economic factors that Goodell cited earlier today:
high labor costs, problems with the rookie pool and the league's inability, through the interpretation of the courts, to recoup bonuses of players who subsequently breach their contract or refuse to perform.
Here's the league's full statement on opting out of the CBA.
As you read through the various news reports, one thing seems clear: this thing isn't going to be resolved until right before the 2011 season. For small market teams like the Rams, a year without the salary cap sounds bad, but the league has some controls in place to keep the Jerry Jones of the world from buying up the better half of the talent pool. For instance, a player will have to have six seasons in the league before becoming a free agent (it's currently four) and the free-agent moves of playoff teams from the previous season will be limited.
Right now, the CBA has a pretty nice profit sharing plan for the players, giving them about 60% of the total league earnings. For teams like the Rams, that significantly reduces the team's profit margin by the time the other operating costs are figured in. I've been just as guilty as the next Rams fan in calling Shaw and the ownership cheap over the last few years, but it is, after all, a business.
The cap may be the issue that gets the most attention, but revenue sharing among teams will be a hot topic too, with the wealthier franchises arguing against it. Like it or not, without the salary cap and revenue sharing, the NFL wouldn't be where it's at today: the nation's premier professional sport with a huge national audience. Operating costs and profit margins aside, that basic formula has made competitive professional football in places like Green Bay or St. Louis possible. Change that formula, and profit margins in small market like that might not be possible at all.
Stay tuned, Pandora's Box is officially open.