Green Bay Packers in good shape for collective bargaining agreement


Feb 13, 2010
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Pete Dougherty column: Green Bay Packers in good shape for collective bargaining agreement | | Green Bay Press-Gazette

The NFL’s next collective bargaining agreement is going to limit players salaries, some way, some how.

Most likely, the new deal, whenever it gets done, will have a salary cap, though maybe it will be a luxury payroll tax or the like.

No matter, the Green Bay Packers will be in good shape.

General Manager Ted Thompson and Vice President Russ Ball have kept the Packers’ payroll on sound footing no matter the rules, and they, like many teams, took advantage of this uncapped season to get in even better shape.

In March they signed three players (Nick Collins, Ryan Pickett and Chad Clifton) to lucrative contracts that paid them a collective $34.4 million that won’t count against future salary caps, assuming the next CBA keeps basically the same accounting rules as before.

So as of today, the Packers’ 2011 commitments for salary-cap pay are about $111 million. That doesn’t include any bonuses or raises triggered by performance this season, or any raise for cornerback Charles Woodson with the contract extension he signed Thursday. It also accounts for only the 42 players who are under contract next year. They have 10 players on their roster who will be unrestricted free agents next year if the eligibility minimum returns to four years service.

However, that total includes linebacker A.J. Hawk’s $10 million salary for ’11, and there’s no way the Packers will bring him back at that cost. It also includes Johnny Jolly’s $2.521 million salary, which will be dropped from their books if they cut him after his one-year suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

For context, the NFL’s salary cap in 2009 was $128 million, presumably would have been about $10 million higher this year if the cap were in place and another $10 million or so higher in 2011.

The league’s owners are committed to cutting the players’ piece of the pie, which was 59 percent of total revenue, but there’s no way to know how far the 2011 cap under a new
CBA will be from the $148 million or so it would have been. But it’s hard to see the players giving in to a gigantic difference, so Thompson surely will have plenty of flexibility.

Not that he’ll spend on free agents, he almost surely won’t. But he will use his money to re-sign and extend the deals of his current roster.

As far as the specific terms of the next CBA, negotiations have been almost nonexistent, so it’s difficult to even guess.

It’s easier to predict when there will be a new deal.

There’s no deadline to push the process until the start of the new league year in early March. That could spur a deal, though it’s far more likely there won’t be enough urgency until the start of training camp or the start of the regular season, when owners start losing revenue and players miss paychecks.

If there’s no deal by early March, the owners will lock out the players. If they don’t, they’ll have to pay all the big option and roster bonuses due at the start of the league year at the risk of there not even being a season.

If there’s a lockout, the CBA still calls for a draft in April, but there won’t be free agency, an offseason workout program, offseason practices or training camp.

The owners insist their net profits have declined under the current CBA because of increasing costs – not only on players, but in building new or refurbished stadiums to help grow revenue that they say benefits players too.

The players want the owners to open individual teams’ books to prove duress, but it’s hard to see that happening. The Packers as a public, non-profit organization are required by their by-laws to disclose publicly their finances, and NFL owners point to them as proof of an unsustainable economic model. But actually, at closer look the Packers’ finances this year are ambiguous on that point.

For the Packers’ fiscal year 2009, their revenue was a record $258 million, yet their profit from operations dropped to $9.8 million from $20.1 million the year before. Also, their players costs increased at a much higher rate (11 percent) than revenue (5 percent).

However, their fiscal year runs from April 1 through March 31 each year, so their player costs for ’09 included $36.22 million in roster bonuses paid in March ’10 to Collins, Pickett, Clifton, Mark Tauscher, B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews. That’s far more than the Packers usually pay out at that time of year.

Regardless, the owners and players will have to compromise somewhere to reach a deal, and how much the league asks players to give in from 59 percent depends in part on what the players give up elsewhere. For instance, agreeing to an 18-game schedule. Publicly the players are against it because of career longevity and long-term health. There’s plenty of reason to think a lot of them are against it privately, too, for those reasons.

An 18-game season definitely undercuts the NFL’s recent emphasis on player safety.

But it also could help clear the big hurdle.

“It could be a game-changing issue,” said Andrew Brandt, the former Packers vice president who blogs on NFL business issues for and co-owns NationalFootball

“Depending on who you believe, (the owners) may be offering between a 9 and 18 percent rollback. Let’s say they go to the players and say, ‘We’re going to give you a much more modest rollback or no rollback at all, but we want you to play these two extra games.’ That could be a breakthrough in the negotiations.”

Some other issues are:

♦ The owners want to be able to recover more of a player’s signing bonus if he holds out on his contract or gets suspended. The owners will have to give something to get this.

♦ Drug testing, most notably for human growth hormone. The owners want it, the players don’t, though why players wouldn’t want testing is beyond me. If they know other players aren’t using it, they’ll know they don’t have to keep up.

♦ A more rigid rookie wage scale so the top few picks in the draft aren’t receiving $40-million plus guarantees. Both sides favor this.

♦ Minimum years to qualify for free agency. It was four years, and when it moved to six years this year, it was a disaster for the players. Brandt said he thinks a new deal will keep it at four.