It didn’t come as much of a surprise that the NFL owners earlier this week opted out of the collective bargaining agreement. After all, the owners have never been shy about doing whatever it takes to maximize their profit margins. What is somewhat surprising, however, is that the NFL Players Association seems nonplussed by the whole matter.
Maybe that’s due to the fact that any impact of the owners’ action is still a few years out. What’s also emerging is that the union, while perhaps not encouraging the owners action, aren’t all that unhappy about it either and you can thank the latest overpaid unproven rookie, Matt Ryan, for that.
In an interview on ESPN Radio earlier this week, Players Association president Kevin Mawae, a center with the Tennessee Titans, sounded like anything but a union representative when discussing what’s been a lingering hard spot for players and owners alike: the skyrocketing value of first year contracts for NFL rookies, particularly those of the marquee variety.
Mawae told ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, “as a guy who has been in the league for 14 now going on 15 years and being around other veteran guys, for a young guy to get paid that kind of money and never steps foot on an NFL football field, it’s a little disheartening to think of. It makes it tough for a guy who’s proven himself to say ‘I want that kind of money’ when the owners, all they’re going to say is, ‘Well, you weren’t a first-round pick.’ ”
That may sound like sour grapes, but there was more: “And I know there is sentiment around the league amongst the players like, ‘Let’s do something to control these salaries and control these signing bonuses’ and things like that, and I know that’s something that the owners are talking about and I’m sure that’s going to play into this round of negotiations for this collective bargaining agreement.”
If you just substitute “owners” for “players” and “players” for “owners” in that last comment, you’d swear it was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell talking. But coming from Mawae, you get the strong sense that the Union sees some opportunity themselves with the recent turn of events.
To be sure, this is an owners’ initiated re-opener of the labor agreement even though either side could have pulled the trigger. Despite the problem the players have with rookie salaries, it would have been political suicide for Gene Upshaw, the union’s executive director, to even suggest opting out of a contract that guaranteed 60% of gross revenues just to make a point about the Matt Ryans of the world.