Players seem to be misunderstanding issues in labor dispute

January 12th, 2011 - 4:37 am

It’s no wonder the league is still without a new collective bargaining agreement. There appears to be a communication issue over what the real problems are.

While perusing the internet late at night I stumbled across a story on ESPN.com detailing the impasse between the NFL and the players union as they work out issues for a new collective bargaining agreement.

Two things that Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said in that article are disconcerting to me.

First, Fujita feels that the NFL is being hypocritical in making so many rules to protect player safety and yet the league is also seeking to tack on two more regular season games. Fujita calls it a “slap in the face” that “the future of us and our families … aren’t even being considered.”

Scott, I have news for you. You players make the decision to put your bodies on the line. If you don’t want to be at risk, step aside and let the next athlete have a chance to fulfill his dream. There are thousands of good football players in this country that never get a chance to make an NFL roster who would be willing to take your place.

Remember, playing football in the NFL is a privilege, not a right.

The second thing bothering me that Fujita and Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth have concerns about is the NFL’s desire to institute some sort of rookie wage scale.

“It seems like the league is asking the union to bail them out because of some of their bad decisions and draft choices,” Fujita said. “That’s not our responsibility. We weren’t the ones twisting their arms when they signed guys like … JaMarcus Russell to those huge contracts.”

No, Scott. They’re not asking to be bailed out. They’re simply stating it’s unfair to pay a rookie, a guy who has never set foot on an NFL field, an obscene amount of money more than a valuable veteran. Players need to be paid more the longer that they’re in the league, not the other way around.

And you’re right, Scott, you weren’t “twisting their arms” when owners gave huge contracts to guys like JaMarcus Russell, but they had no choice. Regardless of what player a franchise drafts in the first round, that player is going to make an obscene amount of money.

Even if the Raiders had drafted Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, or Darrelle Revis (some of the other first round picks from 2007 that have panned out), the Raiders would still have had to overpay those players with the contract they gave Russell.

Whether a team drafts an all-time bust like Russell or Ryan Leaf, or they draft one of the best quarterbacks of all time like a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady (hypothetically, of course. Brady was a 6th round pick), that player is going to make more money than the player that was drafted at that same pick number the previous year.

It’s not by choice, it’s by obligation. Otherwise a player won’t sign.

In layman’s terms, he who is drafted at pick No. 3 in the year 2011 will make more money than he who was drafted at pick No. 3 in the year 2010. This is due to the “slotting” rules. Regardless of whether that 2011 draft pick is better or worse than the 2010 draft pick, the 2011 draft pick is going to make more money (at least, according to the current collective bargaining agreement).

So, the fact that JaMarcus Russell (selected No. 1 overall in 2007) was signed to such a huge contract is not necessarily because the Raiders organization felt he was worth that money… it’s because he had to be signed to a bigger deal than Mario Williams (selected No. 1 overall in 2006). The fact that Russell played a premium position also weighed in.

When Fujita said: “We weren’t the ones twisting their arms when they signed guys like … JaMarcus Russell to those huge contracts,” he was missing the point. Sure, the Raiders didn’t have to select Russell, but they did have to pay Russell that money because that’s what the first overall pick warranted. If they didn’t pay him that money, Russell could have sat out the whole season and the Raiders would have lost their pick.

Foxworth added: “They pay a lot of people a lot of money to scout, so the teams who keep ending up with busts might want to do a better job of selecting scouts and general managers.”

He makes a good point that franchises should do a better job with who they hire as scouts and general managers, but that doesn’t address the salary issue. That just addresses the personnel issue.

What Fujita and Foxworth seem to be failing to grasp is that the league — and the fans, too — don’t have a problem with which rookies are being paid all that money, but rather they have a problem with the money itself that is being paid to first year players.

A player who has yet to take an NFL snap making more money than a 10-year veteran is not only wrong, it’s stupid.

And until these players understand the real issues of the labor dispute, these negotiations will continue to fail.