The San Francisco 49ers want money to build a new stadium. Outside linebacker Manny Lawson wants to be a free agent. New head Coach Jim Harbaugh, wants to run off season workouts. Inside linebacker Takeo Spikes wants to play football, period.
Until NFL owners and players agree to a new collective bargaining agreement, none of them will get their wish.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out: how we make sure we play football,” 49ers owner Ned York said recently on KNBR radio. “The NFL does not want to have a lockout. We want to find a way to get a deal done, and hopefully we’ll figure that out.”
Both sides have had plenty of time to make this happen before the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expired. The owners can lock out the players with no pay or health benefits for as long as they wish.
There will be no off-season minicamps or voluntary practices before a CBA is signed. Training camp would be next on the cancellation list. The doomsday scenario, if the labor dispute extends into September, is that players would miss regular-season games for the first time since the 1987 strike.
BIGGER THAN EVER
“Yeah, there’s anxiety,” 49ers punter Andy Lee said. “The NFL is bigger than it’s ever been. I think (the players) and the owners understand that. All I can do is sit back and hope we have a season. “Hopefully, we’ll get something done.”
Lawson wants a deal done so he can sign his own deal. He just played out his five-year rookie contract and became a free agent March 4, when the new league year begins.
However, Lawson cannot sign elsewhere if there is no CBA in place. The free agent market can not open without one, leaving Lawson and other players with expired contracts and nowhere to go.
San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Takeo Spikes isn’t worried about the money. He, too, became a free agent March 4, but says he has saved well enough from his millions earned over 12 NFL seasons to survive a lockout.
He’s more concerned with potential lost time. It is hard enough to last this long in the NFL at a physical position like his. But, to get a contract after his 34-year-old body sits on a shelf during a prolonged stalemate?
“Guys in my area – 10, 12, 13 years – you can’t afford to miss a year of football,” Spikes said. “It’s bad enough they want to get rid of you anyway. Young guys miss a year, they say, ‘Aw, he’s young, you can knock the rust off.’ With us, it boils down to, ‘Oh, this guy, he’s in his later years, so let’s go with the younger guy.’” Spikes added, “I can still play this game. I want to play.”
Harbaugh wants to coach in the NFL. That’s why he left Stanford, for his first NFL head coaching job.
He’s hired most of his coaching staff and has contacted many of the players on his new roster.
But until there is a CBA, Harbaugh can not do anything with his team. He can not install the West Coast offense he wants. He can not evaluate his players in person, be it in voluntary workouts or mandatory mini-camps.
Imagine a labor dispute that lasts through training camp, or goes into the regular season. Teams with returning head coaches and coordinators would pick up where they left off the previous season.
Harbaugh and his coordinators would have virtually no time to install their new systems and work with their new players before the games begin.
“Well, nobody really knows exactly what’s going to happen with the CBA,” Harbaugh said. “All obstacles can and must be overcome, and that’ll be our approach without excuse.”
This is what lies at the center of the current dispute: The previous CBA gave players about 60 percent of total revenue. Owners want to take roughly 18 percent of that cut and apply it to stadium development and investments.
Players would then get a 60 percent share of a smaller revenue pie, but owners maintain that new stadiums increase total revenue, which would in turn grow the smaller pie for players.
Spikes’ major concern is that a deal was not done in time. He joined union reps from the other 31 teams in Washington, D.C., to discuss strategy and lobby Congress, even as NFL owners met in Atlanta to discuss their own plans.
“I think anything is possible, but my honest opinion about it, I don’t see it getting done before the end of the league year,” Spikes said. “I don’t.”
The one team that does release financial status, the publicly owned Green Bay Packers, showed a drop in operating profit to $9.8-million from $20-million. The Packers’ total revenue increased by $10.1-million but player costs went up by $22.1-million. Salary growth has outpaced revenue gains and profit has dropped the last five years, according to the Packers.