Published February 11, 2011
NEW YORK – NFL owners have been heard on the labor front. So have the players.
What about the agents?
Some say they aren't expecting much progress in negotiations between the NFL and the players' union before the collective bargaining agreement expires March 3.
"The reason for that date is it's the end of the league year," said Joe Linta, who represents Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco and three dozen other players. "Sure, an extension could be coming. If I still believe in Santa Claus, I still have hope."
Linta is among many agents who believe every other issue will get resolved quickly enough once the owners and union agree on how to split nearly $9 billion in revenues.
The owners get $1 billion off the top for operating expenses and are seeking an additional $1 billion. The players note how popular the league is, with record TV ratings, and say they shouldn't have to take a pay cut.
"It's all about money, as it always is," he said Friday, "and everything will flow from there once there's a macro agreement."
Ralph Cindrich has been through every labor dispute between players and owners dating back to the 1970s and the union's infancy. While saying of the state of negotiations "it's fair to call it a mess," Cindrich also concludes "it's too early to panic" and when both parties want to seriously negotiate, they will.
"When they come to the time period when decisions need to be made, that's when they will get down to something," said Cindrich, who represents Steelers linebacker James Farrior and Colts center Jeff Saturday among many others.
A key issue is the owners' intent to include a rookie wage scale, which Linta calls "way overblown" and Peter Schaffer, agent for All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas, says is "scouting insurance against poor selection decisions."
The rookie wage scale proposed by the owners would cover a five-year period. Many players and their representatives say that translates into a veteran wage scale, too, by limiting earnings for players whose average career is less than five years.
Besides, Schaffer says in an e-mail to The Associated Press, a rookie wage scale would not really help NFL owners' spending concerns, and it would damage college football by causing a rush of underclassmen turning pro earlier so they could get to free agency quicker.
"The reality is that the current NFL draft system in its entirety is a tremendous economic windfall to the NFL teams," Schaffer said, "as it provides a large source of cheap, young labor to the league signed for contracts exceeding four years.
That's not true for the highest picks in the draft — Rams quarterback Sam Bradford signed a deal with $50 million guaranteed as the top selection last year. But, as Linta mentions, the extremely lucrative contracts go to a dozen or fewer rookies.
Devin McCourty, selected 27th overall last April, received $10 million over five years, which Schaffer said was not in the top 60 for cornerbacks. McCourty started for New England and made the Pro Bowl.
Eugene Parker, who has Ndamukong Suh, the Defensive Rookie of the Year, among his clients, sees a rookie wage scale as an incentive for agents to potentially not represent players coming out of college.
"It could be a scenario like basketball where the salaries are fixed and there really is little negotiating room for the agent up front," Parker told Sirius NFL Radio on Friday, "and if that is the case you will see more and more agents focusing on the vet players than on the rookie players."
Expanding the regular season to 18 games is negotiable in the view of the dozen agents interviewed by the AP. Each of them cited player safety and the increased chance for injuries as the major stumbling block to a longer regular season.
Don Yee, who represents league MVP Tom Brady, suggested a longer season be accompanied by increased roster size from 53 players to 58, all eligible to play on game day; currently, only 45 can suit up, plus a third quarterback. He also would institute a rule that prohibits any player from appearing in more than 16 games.
"This compromise will create even more interest from fans," Yee said. "What two games will the head coach sit the starting QB? That's a discussion that will set sports talk radio airwaves afire.
"This compromise will also be popular with coaches and general managers who want a greater opportunity to develop younger players. The NFL doesn't have a minor league, and this compromise will force meaningful participation by younger players on the roster.
"Players also would endorse this because each would effectively get two bye weeks during the year. Bye weeks afford important healing time and personal time away from the game."
The agents get their information on negotiations from the NFLPA and its player representatives. They say the lines of communication have been good thus far.
"Technically, he has no obligation to us," Linta says of union head DeMaurice Smith. "We are piano players, nobodies in the process. But he is keeping us informed and making it timely."