Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The NFL is back from nowhere

Hey, did you hear, the NFL lockout is over. Hallelujah, football is back! Now, instead of meaningless updates every 10 minutes on the lockout we can get almost as many meaningless updates on player signings. Someone at ESPN must be en route to Brett Favre’s farm as we speak.

My question is this: Where has it been? Were any games missed? Did anyone lose any money—or, in fact did the teams save money by not holding those fabulous OTA’s we’ve all come to know and love?

Here’s the real question: Did any of you out there REALLY think a deal wouldn’t get done before people starting to actually lose money?

Of course not. The NFL isn’t like The National Hockey League where losing an entire season probably saved the owners money or even like the basketball where losing half-a-season would be, at worst, a break-even proposition for many NBA owners. The NFL is unique in American sports because EVERYONE is getting rich.

Understand this: The lockout occurred not because the owners were losing money or even because they weren’t making money. It occurred because they decided they weren’t making ENOUGH money. They wanted to make MORE money. So, they opted out of their contract and, as soon as The Super Bowl was over and all the checks for last season from the TV networks had cleared, they locked the players out.

There is a tendency when these so-called ‘work-stoppages,’—or in this case a non-work-stoppage—occur for a lot of fans to moan about greedy, millionaire players. For some reason, at least in the past, no one every blames the greedy, billionaire owners. Many people don’t even understand the difference between a lockout and a strike.

Some of the time the blame should be split 50-50. Other times it might be 75-25. In the case of this lockout it was 100-0, the owners having the 100. The good news is, for perhaps the first time in history, a lot of people understood that was the case. Here’s the simplest way to explain this lockout: If the owners had walked into a meeting room at any point and said, ‘look, we’ll just keep the financial terms that were in the last deal in place,’ there never would have been a problem. The players would have said, ‘done,’ and then they would have figured out all the details. It might have taken a little while to work out the rookie salary cap and things like paying retired players and drug-testing rules and new guidelines on practice time and time in pads—but that’s all stuff that you just go into a room and hammer out.

The holdup issue—as it always is—was the money. The owners wanted more and they wanted to give the players less. In a major upset, the players weren’t thrilled with that idea.

Here’s another thing you should understand: If Judge David Doty hadn’t ruled early on that the owners could NOT collect their TV money (through insurance) if there was no season, this might have dragged on for a lot longer. Only when it occurred to the owners that they were going to start losing real money did a deal get done—just in time to open training camps and play those god-awful exhibition games.

The players wanted a deal too. In fact, you can make the case that they NEEDED a deal more than the owners. More athletes than you can imagine live from check-to-check and there is only a small window during which football players can make big money. Like the owners though, they make their money during the season—not during the offseason. Missing a bunch of OTA’s was hardly a big deal.

Which is why it was entirely predictable from day one of this whole thing that it was going to end the way it did and, more important, end WHEN it did.

What’s funny now is to hear all the speculation about how the missed offseason will affect the season. The so-called experts on TV and sportstalk radio are going on about how teams with new coaches have no chance this season because they couldn’t put in their offensive and defensive schemes and because of the loss of ‘reps.’

Oh please. Do you know why the teams with new coaches will be bad this season? Because they were bad last season. That’s why they have new coaches. Bill Belichick had all the offseason OTA’s you could possibly want prior to his first season in New England. The Patriots went 5-11. Then, after two drafts, after finding Tom Brady in the sixth round, after making a few smart free agent signings, the Patriots became world-beaters. Trust me it wasn’t the OTA’s that made the difference.

You know how long it takes for players to learn schemes? (Another of my favorite football terms). About two days. Why do you think rookies who hold out show up in camp on Wednesday and play that weekend? Reps? Sure, they help but what helps more is, you know, talent. I heard one guy going on about how the Carolina Panthers were now going to have to play Jimmy Clausen at quarterback all season because Cam Newton didn’t have a chance to learn the offense during the lockout. Write this down: Unless Clausen has improved about 1,000 percent since last season Newton will start as soon as game three, no later than game five.

And if the Panthers go 1-15 so what? Peyton Manning and Troy Aikman were1-15 as rookie starters (with OTA’s or, as they were called back then, ‘mini-camps,’) and their careers turned out okay. Kyle Boller was 5-4 as a rookie starter when he got hurt in 2003. He was 9-7 a year later. Last I looked he isn’t going to the Hall of Fame anytime soon.

The point is this: Football coaches—and everyone else around them—really want you to believe this is rocket science. Do you know why OTA’s exist? For the reps? No. They exist to market teams during the offseason. “Hey, we were awful last season but you should see how we’re looking in OTA’s! Our quarterback is really establishing a rapport with his receivers! Renew your season tickets RIGHT NOW!”

The media falls for this the same way almost everyone fell for Tiger Woods, wife, kids and a dog act for years (there’s a nice Tiger shot for you Tiger lovers out there). I remember when Joe Gibbs came back to the Redskins in 2004 and one local columnist on the first day of mini-camp wrote about the fact that the first PLAY in mini-camp scrimmage was absolute proof of why Gibbs would take the Redskins back to the Super Bowl.


You know who got hurt by the lack of an off-season? The undrafted free agents who didn’t get a chance to show teams they could play in OTA’s or rookie mini-camps. Now they’ll only have a few days in training camp to make an impression.

The fans didn’t get hurt because they didn’t miss anything that mattered. In fact, they would have been better off if this had gone on another couple weeks so that season ticket holders wouldn’t have been forced to pay extra for exhibition football.

Now that training camps are opening and free agents are being signed there will be complete football-mania again. I just heard a local radio announcer here breathlessly report that the Redskins have signed the immortal Kellen Clemens.

Spare me. I’m going to watch baseball tonight. I’ll check back in on September 8th.


Laura's Husband said...

Hey John,

Interesting thoughts over at by Andy Staples & Co. about ways to fix the NCAA...have you seen the articles?...any thoughts?


Matt from Bethesda

Eric said...

John, I agree with everything you said about the owners and I say as customers, AKA fans, I say way to go NFL owners. I am not talking about their desire to make more money, both sides want to do that, I am talking about their ability to create a level playing field where each franchise can compete on a level playing field. At least the sport continues to be legitimate, unlike Baseball where money decides everything or the NBA where the players are trying to turn this into a 4 or 5 team league. I don't care if there primary objective was more money, the customers are the winners. Let's just hope Baseball and the NBA take back control of their sports.

Gordon said...

Frankly I could care less but I'm happy a bunch of billionaire owners and millionaire players came to an agreement. Not for them or even the fans but for the sake of those whose supplemental incomes depend on games. Not once did I hear a player or an owner voice concerns about lost income for stadium workers, people who park cars or the businesses near stadiums who would have been truly hurt economically.
What a surprise the only game lost, the HOF game is the one owners have no economic stake in. Now Danny and Jerry can charge exorbitant prices for exhibition games along with full price concessions. What' says value more than a six dollar 12oz coke that "costs" like twelve cents sold to you by a vendor barely making minimum wage.
Sadly all the fans will show up and act as if this never happened. Billions of dollars are literally in play and the true "workers" never had a voice.

Anonymous said...

I don't like being called a customer or even a fan. I think we should be called SUCKERS.

Audiophile said...

Couldn't agree with you more. I am a HUGE NFL fan -- during the regular season -- but could care less about all of the off-season crap that goes on. The draft in particular is out-of-control, with weeks (months?) of non-stop coverage before and after. Give me a break! One of the best things about baseball is that when the final out of the World Series in recorded (unfortunately now in November), the game goes "dark" for xxx days (fill in the blank until pitchers and catchers report to spring training). Sure, you've got winter ball down in the Caribbean, and developmental leagues in Arizona, and obviously off-season workouts by the players, but the game itself is dormant once the season is OVER. That is what makes spring training so special -- the sense of renewal after a long winter WITHOUT baseball.

Different topic -- Is there a reason why most of your non-fiction books are either not available in audio format (on at least), or are abridged versions, with two exceptions (Moment of Glory, The Punch). Abridged versions are almost as bad as the NFL off-season! If nothing else, for the 25th anniversary of ASOTB, a high-quality, full-length audio version should be produced.

Not to criticize you, but you're lagging behind your peers. For example, your pal Mitch Albmom has both the regular unabridged version of Tuesdays With Morrie AND a special 10th Anniversary Edition available for purchase. Your other buddy Rick Reilly offers both unabridged AND abridged versions of his most popular books.

Matt Enderle said...

Troy Aikman was 0-11 his first season. The Cowboys one win that year came against the Redskins, courtesy Steve Walsh.

Anonymous said...

for the record, peyton was 3-13 as a rookie in '98.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. The only thing I was more sick of than lockout reports was the the hype about football being back. It was gone? The NFL starts in September and goes until the Super Bowl. Everything in between is absolute BS and nobody should care about it.