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NFL: 5 Years In, The 2011 CBA...

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After a short hiatus - to write about things I may share with you someday - I've returned from political Narnia. I get to write about the NFL and the Los Angeles Rams now, and it's loads more fun than what I've been doing...

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Now at the halfway point - five years in - the 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) has effected the game of professional football in a myriad of ways. Some of them good, yet the bad can't be discounted as players, team owners, and fans of the game try to avoid looking down the road to 2020 when the current CBA expires...

It all began in 1968, when players and owners came together to place a minimum salary per year to play professional football: $9,000 for a rookie, and $10,000 for a veteran. It doesn't sound like much now - remember, this was the 1960's, and you could by a  '68 Chevy Corvette for around $4,700 - but it opened the door by owners actually acknowledging pay concerns. Also started that year, was the NFL players' retirement fund with owners contributing $1.5 million to the fund.

Since that first agreement, there have been eight others - in '70, '74, '77, '82, '87, '93, 2006, and 2011. Looking back through all the agreements - and the strikes that accompanied some of them - it's hard not to come away with mixed feelings. In truth, only the 1977 agreement can be counted as a solid win for the players. The NFL team owners have just been flat out better when it came to negotiating with the players. Markedly so in 2011, the owners came away with a rookie salary cap that made sense to every NFL fan I know - me included - and it's duration of 10 years gave us all a rest between contract turmoils to come...

The 2011 CBA has to be counted as a big 'ol "L" in the contract win-loss column for the players. Why? Well, if you look back before the 2011 CBA, you'll see probably see what I do: veteran player career length and value shrank. In fact, since the 2011 CBA, you've seen more teams cutting veteran players, that in years past would have been retained. The 2011 CBA opened the door for owners to steer more heavily toward replacing veterans sooner through the NFL Draft. It's saved them oceans of money, and sent hundreds of players into the unemployment line.

OK, some of you are shaking your heads, right? If so, it's probably because of all the multi-million dollar player contracts we hear about on an almost daily basis. Written on what amounts to sugar-paper, they dissolve in "that's life" rain far before the contract's original term expires. In my mind, the only real benefit to players from the 2011 CBA is for undrafted free agents. More and more, veteran players who held down roster spots as position depth are being tossed out for cheaper UDFAs. Yes, that 'ol "Law of the Jungle" thingy applies. But time after time I've tried to remind readers about the NFL player learning/transition curve. Just as a slow to develop player begins to "get it", they're replaced with cheaper UDFAs. Player minimum salary increases come year to year, and the tipping point for depth players vs. UDFA replacements appears to be shorter in duration...

I think there may be an evolutionary benefit to the 2011 CBA when it comes to the growing topic of player future health. In fact, I believe this very subject will be the central bargaining hump in 2020 when a new Collective Bargaining Agreement has to be re-negotiated? Look for shorter career terms to be the norm, as well as qualification for full retirement benefits after only a few years in the NFL. Another interesting point to watch will be roster size. Now at 53 players, I think both the owners and NFLPA will have thoughts on expanding rosters, and the verbiage for an "active" player on Sundays...

The rookie salary cap is going to be the NFL owners' baby in any future CBA talks. They know fans of the game will be on their side, since both hated all the money thrown away on players who flat out failed to live up to their promise coming out of the NFL Draft. The NFLPA and player agents will go hard for re-shaping guaranteed money for rookies, but so will the owners. With TV and Cable contracts soaring into the stratosphere, the amount of money that's going to be in play in 2020 is going to stagger fans.

Oddly enough, if there's a strike by players, or a "lockout" by owners in 2020, it's going to be keyed by health benefits, and herein lies the most dangerous point for the owners and the NFL as a whole. It's going to come down to just how willing the NFL Players Association is to immolate the game itself in the public's eye. Just how far will they go to sell CTE ( Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), which is a valid, and relevant concern going forward for anyone considering playing any contact sport? NFL owners need to carefully consider how they approach this key issue...

Where the next CBA is going to steer the NFL is anyone's guess. As 2020 nears, key concerns by players will begin to emerge. NFL owners will begin to ridiculously plead poverty. Fans will shake their collective heads - as the greed both sides seem to have appears boundless - then sit back and wait. It's happened nine times before, so...?