In the NFL labor wars, it's all relative


In the NFL labor wars, it's all relative

By Michael Felger

After decades as a doormat, NFL players have gotten tough. Good for them. It's about time.

They've also grown acutely suspicious and distrustful, for which you can hardly blame them, either.

The germination of the current labor impasse is the owners' demand for more money from the players for "operating expenses.'' The initial demand was for 1 billion, which would be in addition to the 1 billion the owners already collect off an estimated 9.3 billion in total gross revenue. The owners' asking price was said to be down to 325 million by the time talks blew up last Friday.

Remember, the owners were saying for years they couldn't survive without that extra billion, which turned out to be quite a claim, since they'll now apparently accept 675 million less than that. But that's not what would make me most suspicious if I were a player. After all, that's just negotiating.

No, if I were a player I'd keep going back to those "operating expenses.'' The owners say the new funds will be used to grow the game (new stadiums, new media expansion, overseas opportunities, etc). But, naturally, the money will also be used to pay employees and cover expenses incurred in the operation of the league and its teams. And if the owners say they need more money to operate the game, isn't it reasonable for the players to ask for more details about those operations since it's coming out of their pocket?

Yes, these are private businesses, and as such they are not required to open their books. But the owners generate their profits through a revenue split with the players. And in a revenue-split model, when one side asks for a greater slice of that revenue at the expense of the other, there usually has to be a justification for it.

It would be one thing if the players trusted the owners. But the owners haven't come close to earning the players' trust, especially after the Robert Kraft-negotiated TV deal was blown up in federal court two weeks ago.

That deal would have provided the owners with lockout insurance at the expense of additional revenue that should have been split with the players. Remember Kraft scolding the players at the Super Bowl for bringing that action to court, as Tom E. Curran so brilliantly pointed out? If the players had taken his advice and gotten the lawyers out of the room, they would have lost most of their leverage.

After hearing that, would you trust this guy if you were a player?

But it goes beyond that. Just look at the first few names on any given NFL masthead. Consider for a moment how these teams might be run at the very top.

Start in Arizona, where Bill Bidwill, who inherited the team, is chairmanowner, his son Michael is team president and his other son, Bill Jr., is a vice president. Or check out Dallas, where Jerry Jones is the owner, president and general manager, Stephen Jones is the COO and director of player personnel, Jerry Jones Jr. is an executive VP and chief sales and marketing officer and Charlotte Jones Anderson is the VP of brand management (whatever that is). Or how about Minnesota, where Zygi Wilf is the ownerchairman, Mark Wilf is the ownerpresident, Leonard Wilf is the ownervice chairman and Jeffrey Wilf is an ownership partner (whatever that is). Cincinnati has always been a good one, too, where Mike Brown is the president, Katie Blackburn (Brown's daughter) is the executive VP, Pete Brown is the senior VP of player personnel and Paul Brown is the VP of player personnel.

Sort of feels like Bushwood Country Club, doesn't it?

We'd like to introduce our new VP in charge of brand management, Spaulding Smails.

Try reading up on Bill Bidwill sometime. I say "try," because there doesn't seem to be much there. It seems the length of his accomplishments entail being born and inheriting a football team. If Bidwill has had any other job in his life (he was in the Navy for a time in his 20s), or earned a dime from anyone other than the Cardinals, I couldn't find it. His net worth is still said to be in the hundreds of millions. He's said to enjoy military history, cars, coffee and food.

Oh, and losing football games.

Okay, so NFL front offices have become the lucky sperm club. In some places these family members actually work (unfortunately for the fans in Dallas and Cincinnati, the Joneses and Browns really do pick the players). In other places the owners wouldn't know if the ball is puffed or stuffed (in the last 63 years under Bidwill family ownership, the Cards have won a grand total of three playoff games).

The point is that the sperm club salaries fall under the heading, "operating expenses.'' So do their business expenses.

Again, before the players give the owners more money off the top of the gross revenue pie, don't you think it's fair for them to ask just what goes into those expenses in the first place?

What if, for example, some of these family members make as much as the left tackle? Would that surprise you? It wouldn't surprise me. And all the owners must draw a salary, right? Look at some of their titles. Some of them hold three positions. Does that mean three salaries? Whatever, all that money qualifies as an operating expense. So do private planes and company trips. And when it's a private business, there's no reason why that trip can't be in Vail and Spaulding's car can't be a Bentley. It's just another "operating expense."

Do you get it, now?

The owners would be better off just saying they think the players are making too much. Then there'd be no explanations necessary. You're making too much. We want more. Plain and simple. It's capitalism. We'd all get it.

But when owners say they need the money to operate the game, then shouldn't the specifics of that operation be on the table?

Maybe the owners operate their teams on tight budgets with few perks. Maybe there are no frivolous salaries or needless expenses. Maybe everyone flies commercial. It's possible family members are hired purely on the basis of merit and are paid like anyone else would be from the outside.

But probably not.

That's why audited financials are the issue. That's why you can't blame the players for asking:

If "operating expenses" are the problem, why don't we take a look at Spaulding's plane first?

E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to Felger on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Wednesday's Patriots-Bills practice participation/injury report: Same names for Pats


Wednesday's Patriots-Bills practice participation/injury report: Same names for Pats

Wednesday's practice participation/injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Bills game:


TE Martellus Bennett (ankle)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Jamie Collins (hip)
WR Julian Edelman (foot)
DL Woodrow Hamilton (shoulder)
LB Shea McClellin (concussion)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (hamstring)
LB Elandon Roberts (ankle)
DL Vincent Valentine (back)


LB Lorenzo Alexander (non-injury related)
LB Zach Brown (illness)
DT Corbin Bryan (shoulder)
TE Charles Clay (knee)
TE Cordy Glenn (ankle)
WR Marquise Goodwin (concussion)
RB LeSean McCoy (hamstring)
LB Lerentee McCray (knee)
DT Adolphus Washington (illness)
S Aaron Williams (neck)

DT Marcell Dareus (hamstring)
RB Mike Gillislee (foot)
T Seantreal Henderson (back)
LB Jerry Hughes (hand)
G John Miller (shoulder)
WR Robert Woods (foot)

Will time off in September benefit Brady down the stretch?


Will time off in September benefit Brady down the stretch?

FOXBORO -- As far as Tom Brady is concerned, there were no silver linings to Deflategate or the month he spent in exile from his team. Don’t try to put whipped cream on that particular mound of fecal material.
Found that out Wednesday when I gingerly asked Brady whether he’s ever felt this good in mid-October.
“I feel good,” said Brady. “I felt good at this time last year though, too. From one year to the next, I’d say I’ve become pretty efficient with how I get ready to play.
So the missing of September?
“I always wish I could be out there playing,” he pointed out. “I’d much rather be playing than not playing, but it is what it is. I feel good at this point. But like I said, I felt good last year, I felt good the year before that, and I think every year at this time of year just based on the right routine and kind of doing the right things to get yourself feeling good.”
The line of questioning was prompted by two things.
First, Brady’s played 256 games -- regular season and playoffs -- since 2000. His 31 postseason starts are the most in NFL history and he’ll add to it this year. No quarterback’s ever had a schedule like Brady’s for as long as Brady and the punishment he takes (witness Denver last January) would have destroyed the Montanas and Mannings with whom he’s compared. The extended layoff had to do a body good. And the level at which Brady’s playing right now -- and may continue to because he’s fresher -- can only mean good things.
Second, all the band, resistance and quickness work Brady does will never make him fast. But it has seemed to make him more decisive and determined that -- when he does opt to run -- the body will cooperate and arrive at the appointed destination without disaster.
Sunday, Brady both bought time for completions and embarked on short-range scrambles that picked up key first downs.
When Brady talked last week about making Pittsburgh “defend every inch of the field,” Brady scooting into open areas was a perfect illustration of that.
“If there are two or three plays a game that you can make just moving the pocket, or sliding, or buying your receivers more time, or scrambling on third-and-two, it’s just one more thing that they have to defend,” said Brady. “We made – Jimmy [Garoppolo] made a bunch of those when he was in there early. Jacoby [Brissett] made some.
“It’s nice to be able to do that because I think it’s a little discouraging for a defense when they feel like they’ve got you covered or they’ve got the right call on it, and all of the sudden – I mean, I don’t think they’re preparing for me scrambling for first downs. I know they’re not working on that. They’re working on stopping Gronk [Rob Gronkowski], and stopping Julian [Edelman], and Danny, and Hogs [Chris Hogan], LeGarrette [Blount] and James [White]. That’s not one of their top 10 things on their hit list, so I think it’s pretty discouraging when it happens and hopefully we can keep it going.”
At this point, Brady’s running has to at least be in the scouting report.
Although Rex Ryan isn’t buying.
“I’d like to see him do it more often,” said Ryan when asked if the scrambling of Brady was becoming annoying. “Put him in the option, that’s one thing that doesn’t scare you much, you live with that. What scares you is when he lets the ball go. He’s able to pick up a few first downs, But I think we may have the edge in running ability this week. I may go out there and make that bold statement. They may be worried about (Tyrod Taylor) more than than we’ll be about Tom running.”