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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Lockout primer: Players' minds on money -- and plenty of it

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It used to be free agency was the big issue for NFL players in their fight against the NFL owners.

Now it's simply money. Green. Coin. Cash. Money.

They can talk all they want about health issues, playing 18 games and any other issue thrown into these talks, but the bottom line in the current collective bargaining agreement talks is money.

"You know it is," said one player source.

Jeff Saturday is one of the key members of the NFLPA executive committee. (AP)  
Jeff Saturday is one of the key members of the NFLPA executive committee. (AP)  
The players have free agency, which is something they fought tough battles to get, including two strikes in the 1980s. That's not going anywhere.

There are other issues at play here for the players and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, such as a rookie wage scale, 18-game seasons and health care for ex-players. The biggest issue, as it usually is in most league negotiations, is revenue sharing. The owners want to keep an additional $1 billion from the players in terms of revenue sharing as expense credits.

"They want to make it a worse deal," said the player.

Here's a look at the player's side of the talks:

Key players

DeMaurice Smith: This is his first CBA as NFLPA executive director. He is a fighter who will not go down without landing his punches. Smith took over in a vote of players after Gene Upshaw died. Upshaw was said to be too chummy with then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Smith is not chummy with Roger Goodell. Sources say there has been tension since they first met. Maybe that's just part of the negotiating game. There is some talk that Smith is using this position -- and these negotiations -- to jump to bigger things, including eyeing a political career that might include a certain White House. The union denies this publicly, but it's out there.

Smith comes across as combative at times, even with the media, but that's his background as a litigator and prosecutor. It will be interesting to see if he plays tough guy through the entire talks.

NFLPA executive committee: Led by president Kevin Mawae, this is a group made up of some the league's players to help better represent the rank-and-file. Mawae isn't in the league anymore, but he remains the president.

Other key players on the committee are Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Colts center Jeff Saturday, Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth and Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch. These players have the ear of Smith and they are involved in some of the talks.

Key issues

$1 billion separation of shared gross revenues: In the expiring CBA players received approximately 50 percent of all revenues in the NFL. Or, players received approximately 60 percent of total revenue in the NFL after the owners take a number of expense credits that add up to more than $1 billion a year. This time the owners want to take an additional $1 billion off the top for expense credits.

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The owners say the cost of doing business -- financing stadiums being one main change -- has made costs go up and they want the players to offset some of those costs. The players contend they shouldn't be paying the men who employ them to handle costs.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who built his $1.1 billion palatial stadium, is a big proponent of putting stadium costs into the next CBA. But is that really a cost the players should be included in covering? That's the basic argument.

This is the issue that will decide whether there is an agreement or not. The revenue cut, if the $1 billion extra is included, would be 18 percent. That's a big hit for players.

So why not negotiate that number down to a more agreeable number, say 10 percent? The players want the books to be open, but the league has said no, which is also a sticking point.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, since this is "the" issue of the talks.

Talk of an 18-game season: That is Goodell's baby. He is a big proponent of playing two more regular-season games and eliminating two preseason games, the idea being that two more games will help increase the television pool.

The players want no part of it.

There is great concern about injuries and player safety from their standpoint. And that's understandable. But what if the league gave players back two months of the offseason, meaning they are home, not at the facility for those two months?

Several players I've talked to about it say that might be a solution they could handle. The players would also want more roster spots, which means more jobs, and quicker vesting of their benefits if there were an 18-game schedule.

This isn't the deal-breaker some are making it out to be, even if publicly some players are acting like it is.

Rookie wage scale: The veterans are all for this. Why wouldn't they be? It means more money goes to them -- at least in theory. There is some thought among players that the money will instead go back to the owners.

The basic problem with the concept is the owners want a rookie scale that would last a player's first five years. The NFLPA wants it to be three years so rookies can get to their first big contract sooner. The owners want to include a performance pool for players who outplay their rookie contracts to help offset having the scale.

That's still not good enough for the players, who want three-year rookie deals. The agent community is dead-set against a rookie wage scale because it would render them useless for a player's first contract. They are the ones who will push players to hang tough on this one. Count on that.

I don't think this is an issue that will decide a CBA. The veterans won't fight this one that hard.

Better benefits for retired players: This is one area that both sides say needs to improve. Look for this CBA, when it does get done, to include more funding for troubled players. The sad plight of several retired players has come to light in the past decade and there is no arguing on either side that something needs to be done.

Fan Poll

Whose side are you on in the NFL labor dispute?

The owners
19%
The players
19%
Nobody's side: Just get a deal done
62%

Total Votes: 29,364

No way this is a deal-breaker. This is an easy one.

What can the players do?

The first big bullet they are expected to fire is decertification.

That's risky.

Decertification happens if employees formally revoke the authority of the union to engage in collective bargaining on their behalf. This move would allow the players to possibly bring an antitrust suit against the league.

But it also gives the owners a chance to implement their own rules under the last-offer/best-offer guidelines of a union decertifying.

The union decertified in 1989 as part of the negotiations back then, but reformed as a union in 1992. The NFL could argue that decertification prevents the players from bargaining in good faith.

Bottom line

The word you hear from players in the know is that there has been progress on the little things, but not the big things. That big thing is the extra $1 billion the owners want to take. Until there is a figure agreed to that both sides can live with, it's going to be a long time before a deal gets done. Money dictates these things -- as it always does.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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