DANA POINT, Calif. -- In securing an incredible rights fee from DirecTV to air games on satellite TV -- $1 billion per year from 2011 through 2014 -- the league got something far more valuable than money alone. The NFL got lockout insurance.
Even if games are not played in 2011, the NFL's deal with DirecTV calls for the league to be paid the billion-dollar rights fee, a source close to the talks told SI.com here at the league meetings.
That certainly won't drive the league away from the bargaining table with new NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith when negotiations begin this spring, but it will give the owners a powerful strike fund of approximately $31 million per team in 2011.
The league's current deal with DirecTV runs through the 2010 season. By announcing the new satellite deal so far in advance of its effective date, and by quietly publicizing that the rights fees in a bad economy have grown from $700 million a year to $1 billion, the NFL is showing the players that it has a war chest and won't be pressured into making a deal it doesn't want just for the sake of avoiding a work stoppage in 2011.
This will be a huge factor in the looming negotiations, one that clearly will make the league not as desperate to resolve a simmering dispute with the players that began when owners opted out of the current collective bargaining agreement last year.
The NFL will have uninterrupted business as usual through the 2011 draft, 25 months from now. The next two seasons -- one with a salary cap this year, and one without a cap in 2010 -- will be held whether a new deal is struck or not. But without a new labor contract, the league presumably would lock the players out of training camp in 2011.
At these meetings, commissioner Roger Goodell has begun to lay out how advantageous it would be for players to get a deal done before the uncapped year in 2010. Veterans would have to have six years of credited service to be free agents instead of the current four; veterans with three to five years of experience would be restricted free agents. In addition, the top eight teams from the 2009 season would have significant free-agency restrictions; they'd be unable to sign free agents until they lost unsigned players of equal or higher value than the one they want to sign to another team.
DirecTV airs all Sunday afternoon games exclusively on satellite on its NFL Sunday Ticket package.
Now for your e-mail:
• APPLES AND ORANGES, RUSS. From Russ Jones of Albuquerque, N.M.: "PETER! You're killing me with this coin toss thing and to suggest that each team get an equal shot is flawed logic. During regulation, do both teams get equal possessions? Where's the hue and cry to change quarters of football to innings so that way there's equality?''
Which contest would you say is more inequitable, Ross? One team getting one possession and the other getting none, or one team getting 13 possessions and the other team getting 12?
• ONLY ONE THING WRONG WITH THIS. From Matt Cafaro of Athens, Ga.: "Fixing overtime is the easiest thing imaginable: Follow the old NHL rules, which were fair. Every regular season game plays a full extra period if it ends in a tie at four quarters. If the game remains tied after this extra period, it's a tie. Deal with it. For playoff games, you do as hockey does in the playoffs. You keep playing full quarters, until there is a winner. You could go to six or seven 'quarters,' but you get a winner without having to compromise to the college solution.''
The problem is that players don't want to add a full quarter to the season, which, as I explained Monday, is likely to be increased by a game or two in the near future. If the league goes to 18 games -- which I think would be a disaster because of the increased injury factor -- and if a team plays two overtime games in that season, the team would be playing 2.5 more games than it's playing now. That's 16 percent more football in a league in which injuries are already at high levels. Not going to fly.
• HMMMMM. From Bruce Grossberg of Forest Hills, N.Y.: "Overtime: Instead of focusing on each team having a possession, why not focus on the unfairness of the coin flip? Why can't there be a 100-yard dash for possession, or the longest throw, or a "punt-off" for possession? Something quick, but something that would be less arbitrary than a coin flip.''
I actually like that. Eliminate the capricious coin flip in favor of something that would demonstrate one team's superiority over the other.
• YOU HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD THERE, GREG. From Greg Krider of N.Y.: "Apart from money and greed, what is the fascination of expanding the NFL into other countries? Last time I checked, the NFL stood for 'National Football League.' If the NFL does expand globally, will it become the 'IFL' (International Football League)?"
You make a good point. The NFL wants to blaze trails, but I suspect it also wants to put its hands in the pockets of fans in Europe, too. It's no different from other businesses. Once you accept the fact that this is a business more than it's a sport, then you'll understand the fascination and the drive of NFL owners to continue to grow the game into other areas of the world.
• BOLDIN MUST STAY. From D. Simon of Glenwood Springs, Co.: "I think the Cardinals would be CRAZY to trade Anquan Boldin to either the Eagles or the Giants. I know they aren't in the same division, but if the Cardinals view themselves as Super Bowl-contenders next season, why would they want to help one of the teams that would be their main competition as they attempt to get back to the Super Bowl? If I were running the Cardinals and HAD to trade him [my first choice would be to keep him], I would only trade him to an AFC team, even if the compensation was slightly less than the Eagles or Giants would give up.''
I'm sure Arizona GM Rod Graves agrees -- and I'm sure if the difference were, say, five spots in the draft, he'd deal Boldin to a team he wouldn't have to compete with for a playoff spot. But if the competition for Boldin, say, is with the Eagles (20th overall in the first round) and Jacksonville (39th overall), would you want to take the lesser pick just to have him out of the NFC?
• A QUESTION EVERYONE IN OUR BUSINESS IS ASKING TODAY. From David Dorsey of Fort Myers, Fla.: "I'd be curious to know the names of the papers that DID pay for their writers to stay at that $425 a night hotel. Which brings me to my question: With the current economic climate, I just don't see how papers will be sending beat writers on road trips in the near future. At some point, don't you think the NFL will be affected by the downturn? And how do you think beat coverage of teams will change?''
It has to change, and change drastically. I see a superb beat reporter, Jeff Legwold, here, even though his paper, the Rocky Mountain News, has dissolved. Legwold's doing some freelance and trying to catch on elsewhere. And I can't help but feel the fans of the Broncos are the ones most hurt -- other than Legwold and his family and the business of journalism -- by the decline of newspapers. Jeff's been a required read for me to keep up on the Broncos, and now he's not writing for the Rocky about Jay Cutler, and I can't help but think he'd have broken some news that we'd all have had to follow up.
• I EVEN GET IN TROUBLE WRITING ABOUT COFFEE. From Craig Meyers of Aiea, Hawaii: "Not a question, but a comment. You really need to get a reality check when complaining about having to wait 30 minutes for coffee. I've never been in a hotel that doesn't have a coffee maker in your room, and if that's too tough, then just wait. I think you're a great writer, but given the way things are these days, whining about coffee while staying in a $250/night room is sad.''
It's $179 a night. And you don't think it's, well, a bit lacking that a hotel charging $179 a night doesn't have coffee available in the lobby or the restaurant or anywhere at 6:17 in the morning?
• WE'RE WITH YOU, OAKLAND. From Jonathon Stewart of Oakland: "We appreciate your sentiments regarding the tragic death of the four Oakland police officers this past weekend. This is the second tragic incident in Oakland this year with the death of a 22-year-old young man on New Year's at a BART station. The community is and still will be recovering for the foreseeable future.''
Good luck. What a horrendous fate.
• THEY LOVE THE Z-MAN. From David Tucker of Tampa: "Thank you for the Dr. Z update. I really hope he can come back one day because I miss his wealth of football knowledge. But even if he just were to regain a semblance of his normal life, that would make me feel good. I look forward to hearing how we can help.''
Next Monday, I'll let you know.
• THE WORLD IS FLAT. From Jason of Hermosa Beach, Ca.: "Say it ain't so! Peter King heaping praise upon a former member of the Bush Administration? Looks like we might finally have a fair and balanced MMQB after all!''
Let us pray.