If NFL owners and the Player's Association cannot come together on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) soon, fans may not be able to watch their favorite players on the gridiron in 2011.
Sure, 2011 may seem like a long way down the road, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has both sides already working together now that the NFLPA elected DeMaurice Smith as its executive director.
Speaking to a crowd that included reporters at the Bronko Nagurski Charlotte Touchdown Club luncheon in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, Goodell addressed the CBA and many other topics currently concerning the league.
"We've had a number of meetings already," Goodell said. "Both [groups] are motivated to get it done, because that's what's best for the game. The more dialogue we have, the more understanding we have and the better decisions we can make."
In its present state, the CBA expires after the 2010 season. This year (2009) will be played with a salary cap, and then the following season will be uncapped if no new deal is struck by the 2010 opener.
In theory, large-market teams could "buy" championships because of their ability to make more money and pay star players higher salaries with no salary cap.
"It will be the first time we've had an uncapped year since the 1993 season," said Ravens president Dick Cass. "But it won't be the unrestrained spending that some people think it will be. There are rules in place that have the effect of restraining the spending."
These rules and policies would limit large-market teams to poach top talents from other rosters with the promise of big contracts.
First, the amount of service required to become an unrestricted free agent would shift from four to six years. Teams would have the ability to use one franchise (the player earns the average of the top-five salaries at his position for one year) and a transition tag (average of the top-10 salaries at his position) to protect their players. Today, clubs only have one franchise *or *one transition designation.
Both measures mean that teams can keep their best players on their rosters longer, keeping them from the open market.
Additionally, playoff teams would be handcuffed to spending restrictions.
The four squads participating in the conference championship games are limited in the number of free agents that they may sign. These teams can only sign as many free agents as they lose to other clubs. For the four teams that lose in the divisional round, in addition to having the ability to sign free agents based on the number of their own free agents signing with other clubs, they may also sign players based on specific financial parameters.
The worst-case scenario, from a fan's perspective, is a player lockout, which could mean that no NFL games will be played in 2011. The NFL's last work stoppage came in 1987, but that was because the players walked out for three weeks, prompting owners to field replacement teams.
Goodell realizes how important it is to avoid a similar scenario in the face of this challenge.
"We have time to deal with and address these issues and get a system that works for the game and works for all parties," Goodell said. "But, we recognize the responsibility of playing the game of football, because that is what the fans want."
According to Cass, the Ravens are moving forward as if 2010 will not have a salary cap.
"I know that now that we have a new union head, both parties will be able to sit down and talk about the issue," Cass stated. "I know both the union and the league are going to work hard to correct the situation.
"From a Ravens perspective, we're assuming at this point in planning for 2010 being an uncapped year."
In other news, Goodell also discussed the potential of extending the regular season to 17 or 18 games and trimming the preseason to only two or three.
"It is clear to me that our preseason games don't meet the NFL standard of quality, and we need to adjust what we're doing," Goodell said, per panthers.com, the Carolina Panthers' official team Web site. "We also don't believe from a football perspective that you do need four preseason games to get ready for a football season. It's something that we believe is positive for our fans. It will improve the quality of what we're doing."
The Commissioner said that he wouldn't give a recommendation on the schedule change at next week's league meeting.
Another way the schedule could be affected is the addition of another overseas showcase in London.
In 2007, the New York Giants defeated the Miami Dolphins 13-10 a sold-out Wembley Stadium, and the New Orleans Saints won 37-32 over the San Diego Chargers last year. This season, the game is between the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Oct. 25), and tickets again sold out quickly.
While Goodell ruled out the possibility of holding the Super Bowl in the United Kingdom, he acknowledged that the league could not ignore the NFL's popularity there.
"The fan reaction we've had in London has been extraordinary. We would like to feed that passion," Goodell said. "We have a great fan base in the UK. There have been discussions of taking the second game and playing it in another market in the UK. That's something that we'll evaluate."