A deal to end the NFL Lockout might be right around the corner according to the latest reports from inside the settlement talks between players and owners. Yes, reports of progress come and go, but a breakthrough on the rookie pay scale clears one major hurdle, one that's been holding the two sides up for the last week or so. Now, the two questions remaining are what's left to do and what will the new deal look like?
ESPN is reporting that the salary cap has been set at $144 million, including benefits, with a $120 million cash cap, i.e. the salaries. In 2009, the last time the NFL had a cap, it was $128 million. The St. Louis Rams have about $105 million on the books against the cap right now (subject to change), but some teams, shockingly Dallas, are above that number. A provision to Jerry-rig that for 2011 is being discussed.
Still left to be resolved are a couple of notable issues. One issue fans will care deeply about is the bumper crop of free agents this year and whether or not teams can have a small number of right of first refusal tags. After so many players missed out on a free agent pay day last year because of the no-cap, six-year rules for unrestricted free agency, they lack a willingness to deny some players a shot at free agency for the second year in a row.
The key to getting, as you know, is giving, and players are expected to bend to the owners' wish to remove judicial oversight from the new CBA. Instead, the league would use an arbitration system, something that would also apply to discipline issues. That last bit would take discipline matters out of the hands of Roger Goodell, a win for the players.
I highly recommend that you read the ESPN article for a much more detailed picture.
A word of caution...we've heard reports of progress before, many times. The issues remaining are sensitive ones, and no compromise is easy. You'll note the report says that the salary cap floor for teams, i.e. how much they are required to spend on player salaries, has yet to be determined, though it is agreed to top 90 percent. That could be a very dicey issue, one where tensions among owners bubbles to the top. Small market teams do not like the concept of a high salary floor, which can eat into their profits, if they make profits at all.