The NFL and the NFLPA: The Significance of the Current Collective Bargaining Process and a Collection of Relevant Legal and Ethical Issues (Part 2: A Brief and General History of the 1993 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement)

 

Football fans and other unions supported players' calls for fair wages and contracts in the 1987 players' strike. This time, though, team owners (management) are threatening a lockout of the 2011 season in their attempt to rewrite the CBA.

A Concise History of Collective Bargaining in the NFL and a Look Towards the Future

After a players’ strike in 1987, collective bargaining commenced and resulted in the 1993 collective bargaining agreement.  The CBA lasted 17 years, and in 2008, the owners decided to opt out after its expiration in 2010.  “When the collective bargaining agreement was approved in 1993, both sides won big: the players got free agency and the owners got a salary cap.  It seemed like everyone was happy,” according to Troy Aikman, former quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys and recent Hall of Fame inductee (Aikman, 2009).  Aikman adds that “owners found a loophole in the agreement that allowed them to pay big signing bonuses to players” and distribute the uncapped sum over the contract’s duration (2009).  This loophole, exploited by team owners in the years immediately following the CBA’s expiration, contributed to a culture of increasingly high player salaries that apparently caught up to them fifteen years later.  The NFL has enjoyed the longest period without a work stoppage in all of American professional sports – 23 years since 1987, to be exact.  Nevertheless, Aikman remains optimistic that both sides will find enough common ground and continue to enjoy the league’s unprecedented growth in popularity, partnerships, and revenue (2009).

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is no stranger to controversy and one of the league's most well-known executives.

The 1993 collective bargaining agreement had a significant impact on parity in the NFL that led to two paradigm shifts.  Competitive balance increased throughout the NFL with the creation of free agency: the first major change (Lee, 2010, p. 77).  The second major shift regarded payroll constraints, such as the salary cap, that curtailed excessive team spending – theoretically – on “expensive” talent and kept talent on the market for teams with enough cap room to bid for their services (p. 78-82).  Signing bonuses and their amortized values helped owners circumvent salary cap limits and contributed to large contracts reaching nine figures (such as Albert Haynesworth’s current contract with the Washington Redskins) over their duration.  Also, the old collective bargaining agreement was revolutionary in American sports.  Unlike other leagues that instituted both rules and structural changes in their CBAs, the NFL is the only league that saw a CBA stimulate parity (Lee, p. 86).

As of early October 2010, forecasts for a quick resolution of the collective bargaining process seem bright for some and dismal for others.  New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft expressed confidence in the possibility that a new agreement would be approved by the end of the season, as did Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, in interviews in early October (Wilner, 2010).  Several owners share in this optimism, yet want to lower the amount of revenue shared with players to pre-free agency numbers, which would be as low as early 1980s figures (DiTullio, 2010).  However, in mid-October, the NFLPA’s DeMaurice Smith considered progress towards a new collective bargaining agreement “nonexistent” (King, 2010, p. 44).  With such conflicting data and inconsistent stories, the future of the current collective bargaining process is difficult to gauge or predict.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Read Part 3 at: Part 3!

Read part 1 at: Part 1!

I will post Part 3 next week.  Thank you for your readership and emails regarding the CBA.  Remember that discussions are also possible by posting comments after clicking the “comments” link next to each article.

 

A great picture of Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice - needing a helmet more than ever - on bleacherreport.com. Though this photograph is irrelevant to my article, it could offer a much needed laugh on a Wednesday afternoon at work.

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