Breaking down the issues driving the Joey Bosa-Chargers contract standoff. Plus a look at the NFL’s problems in Canton and why owners might root for NFLPA to lobby to reduce commish power at next CBA
Taking a spin around the league to look at issues from a business perspective...
As discussed here often, the 2011 collective bargaining agreement not only drastically reduced first-round compensation but also preset the amounts paid. The NFL and NFLPA created a system that would eliminate the specter of holdouts, with contract numbers predetermined by draft position.
Or so we thought. While the CBA has eliminated most of the negotiating process, there are still structural issues to be negotiated for which the CBA provides no standard solution. This is the reason for the still-unsigned status of Joey Bosa, the third overall pick in the 2016 draft. The Chargers and Bosa are now in a stare-down, each side not blinking, over two issues: 1. Payment terms on a signing bonus exceeding $17 million; and 2. The inclusion (or not) of offset language, giving the Chargers financial relief if Bosa were released during the contract and signed elsewhere.
Regarding payment terms on the bonus, Bosa’s camp wants the full bonus paid by the end of the calendar year while the Chargers want to push roughly half of the $17 million until March, when the new fiscal and league years begin. As to offset language, the Chargers have precedent for offset in their rookie contracts, although they haven’t had a pick nearly this high in this new CBA era. (And they did pay Philip Rivers $32 million in the past calendar year, nearly twice the amount of Bosa’s bonus.)
With two outstanding issues simmering, one would think there might be opportunity for compromise, with the Chargers and Bosa each giving on one of the issues, something seen elsewhere in the draft. First overall pick Jared Goff does have deferrals but no offset language. Second overall pick Carson Wentz does have offset language but only $1 million of deferral that is paid in January. And since 2012, the third overall pick has either had: 1. No offset language with deferral; or 2. Offset language with bonus paid before January. This year, 19 of the first 24 picks have had their signing bonus paid in full by the end of 2016. For what it’s worth, last year’s top overall pick, Jameis Winston, had offset language and $6 million of his signing bonus deferred into the subsequent March.
The Chargers, despite the above, do not appear to be moving on either issue. Further, it appears that any suggestion that they will give in to Bosa to avoid another distraction with the uncertainty around potential relocation only emboldens them more. They will wait out Bosa, who has no options and, therefore, no leverage. They know, as we do, that Bosa will eventually come into the fold. As to lingering damage between the team and the player, time will tell, although that will probably linger more with the agents for Bosa than with Bosa himself.
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Rather than applaud the cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game—due to an unplayable field—in the name of player safety, I prefer to play the What if? game. Cancelling a meaningless early August game that precedes four other meaningless August games is a no-brainer; tougher decisions will lie ahead. And, of course, there will be lawyers (and already are).
What if, however, two teams walked out to an unplayable playing surface in a game in, say, November? Would the NFL’s stated highest priority of player safety trump a truly meaningful game? We have seen clumps of turf coming up on fields in places such as Chicago, Carolina and Washington, among others. And last year Reggie Bush slipped and injured himself on exposed concrete outside the playing surface in St. Louis. Was there ever discussion about cancelling those games in the name of player safety? There was not.
Similarly, the new and well intended concussion protocols and sanctions unveiled last month—in direct response to the Case Keenum fiasco last year—are to be commended, but will they apply to, say, a woozy star quarterback leading an important drive in the fourth quarter of a late-season game? We certainly hope so.
The Hall of Fame and David Baker admirably fell on the sword for the NFL, taking the blame for the field conditions and enduring the wrath of fans and viewers. However, this was not Baker's fall to take. I was with the Packers when we had a HOF game cancelled years ago, this for lightning in the third quarter, and that was an NFL decision, not a HOF one. The buck stops with the league, not Baker, and it was not until Tuesday afternoon that the NFL accepted responsibility.
Even then, the mea culpa—from NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent—was: 1. Addressed to the 32 teams rather than the public; and 2. Still off-loading blame—While the HOF field situation underscored the challenges in working with third parties...—before accepting accountability. The NFL needed to own this situation sooner and better than they did.
Finally, faced with the unfortunate playing surface, why not offer the fans (and television audience) an impromptu treat? We had Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck in the same place; why not have a throwing skills competition, even if with trashcans? Why not have Tony Dungy give a Chalk Talk about any number of coaching issues, sitting alongside Mike McCarthy and Chuck Pagano. Why not play some goofy “Family Feud” type games with the players? Surely there could have been some more creative solutions than merely introducing the Hall of Fame players and players signing some autographs.
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Two Down, None to Go
Adrian Peterson’s quest to have a Court of Appeals rebuke Roger Goodell’s system of dispensing justice on player conduct took a similar fatal path as Tom Brady’s quest this week. The decision leaves the NFLPA back where it started on the Commissioner power front: a party to a mutually agreed CBA granting the Commissioner broad authority over player conduct.
In 2011 the NFLPA embarked on a litigation strategy hoping to achieve what they could not obtain in negotiations. While that strategy had some success at the lower court level, it failed at the Circuit Court level and forced the NFLPA to make the best deal they could on the eve of training camp in 2011.
The union has since followed similar litigation strategies in trying to curb Goodell’s perceived heavy-handedness. While they have had some success with arbitrations (Bountygate, Ray Rice, Greg Hardy) and at lower court levels, the higher courts—like the 8th Circuit (Peterson) and the 2nd Circuit (Brady)—have affirmed Commissioner powers collectively bargained five years ago.
Rather than pile on the NFLPA, as I am often baited to do, I empathize with the complexity of multi-issue negotiations and understand their decision to not press on an area that affects only a small number of players. Having said that, there have been enormous resources spent trying to undo an issue that could have been addressed in bargaining. As to the argument that they didn’t expect Goodell would be overreaching, that is not based on history.
There were concerns about Goodell’s disciplinary powers long before the 2011 CBA negotiations. Indeed, he has actually imposed lighter discipline in recent years (Ben Roethlisberger received a six-game suspension in 2010 for his behavior with a woman in a bathroom, although no charges were filed). This was hardly a new issue for the union.
As to whether the “judge, jury and executioner” issue sets up as a battleground in the next negotiations, my sense is that the owners—not the players—hope so. They would then try to: 1. Leverage more gains by making some easy “gives” in the disciplinary procedure; and 2. Distract the union from focusing on what is always their priority issue: more money.
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