The Big Winners of the NFL Lockout are...The Fans?

With the NFL de-certification/lockout apparently drawing to a close, it appears a working framework is in place for the NFL will look like under the new CBA.  Frankly, as a fan who only cares about the end product on the field, I have little interest in which side is getting the larger portion of an already incredible sum for being involved with a game that most of us would and do pay hard earned dollars to be a part of.

Instead, like most fans our main concern is that the game remains the stirring, competitive, and entertaining sport that it has been for the past decade.  The rhetoric that was spewed forth by both sides created doubt in the minds’ of many fans as to the ability of the powers that be to balance the financial considerations of the league with fans’ desire to see the game not diluted by altering it in a way that makes more money for the league but dilutes the product on the field in some way.

In other words, I didn't want to line the pockets of the owners or the players if it meant having to watch my team play on Tuesday or Wednesday nights in January with players that don't care because they all have guaranteed contracts.  For a while, it seemed as if that was the direction the negations were headed. 

However, if the current framework gets approved, fans should be happy for a variety of reasons:

There will be a rookie wage scale.  This one should have been a no brainer for every person involved in the negiations.  Yet for some reason the players union (or non-union more recently) feigned disinterest in this so that it could be used as a quid-pro-quo bargaining chip.  In reality, the existing players should have been jumping up and down for this because it means more money in their pockets.  And after all, it is existing players, and not future draftees, who are the only people represented by the union.

But fans should rejoice as well because it means no longer having your team draft a Jamarcus Russell or any Lions receiver at #1, tie up tons of cap space by paying him millions in guaranteed money, and then have them flame-out after 2 or 3 seasons.  This will be a huge benefit to teams picking in the top ten,  and those picks will once again be valuable again on draft day.  The bottom line is that no longer will the fortunes of a downtrodden franchise have to ride on an untested 22 year-old kid who just got handed a winning lottery ticket and then told to go out there and work hard.  

There won’t be an 18-game schedule, thank God.  Speaking just for myself, I am relieved that I won’t have to sit through a meaningless Browns/49ers game in the middle of January when the team was eliminated from contention 2 months prior.  The number of meaningless games would have been multiplied substantially, and it could be argued that adding 2 more games would have actually decreased fan interest in those cities whose teams were slow out of the gate. 

Not to mention the fact that there is perfect symmetry with scheduling 32 teams, in 8 divisions of 4, for 16 weeks of play.  The current schedule rotation works perfectly with 16 games.  It also means that seasonal records will remain relevant with the number of games remain the same for the past 40 years.

The Salary Cap will be reinstated.  I call this the ‘let’s not become baseball where only the large market teams get to fully participate in free agency and the rest of the teams in the league act as a de facto farm club and thus make the game un-watchable by 80% of the market year after year” rule.  The only people who argue this are the people from the large market cities who somehow think their teams do well every year because of savvy decision making and ‘reinvesting in the product.’   If they really believe that it just proves the point that you can’t reason with idiots. 

It could be argued (and I am arguing it now), that the single biggest reason for the NFL’s dominance over Major League Baseball the past 3 decades has been because of the leveling of the playing field by way of revenue sharing and a salary cap. 

Look, I put my heart and soul behind a team that crushes my hopes roughly 4 weeks into every season, but I know it’s not because the deck is unfairly stacked against them vis-à-vis their ability to spend dollars on the team.  I know it’s because they are usually managed by people who are poor at their jobs.  But that gives me solace that one day (and oh, what a glorious day it will be!) they might find the right combination of management and players that results in a championship season because they are able to operate under the same rules as everyone else.  I can’t same the same for the baseball team that plays their games a mile away. 

I have to give major props to the likes of Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft for having the ability to see that giving up an advantage that their teams would get from an un-capped leage would ultimately be a detriment to the coffers that support said league by of lessened fan interest.

We will (probably) not miss football!  I wish I was employed in this same capacity several months ago, because I would have made a compelling (in my mind) argument that the fans should actually be behind the owners, and that tolerating a missed season might pay dividends in the long run.  That argument would have reasoned that the only way to achieve the victories I outline above would have been to fully leverage the owners hand and force the players to come to the bargaining table only when they had missed a few game checks.

Thankfully cooler heads have prevailed.

Three months ago I would have thought it impossible that we would not miss any football and that most of the terms of the new CBA would be fan friendly I would have.  Yet here we are potentially on the eve of just such a day.  Football fans everywhere should be happy the day ink begins to dry on the new CBA, even if only for the fact that we won’t have to go through this for another 8-10 years

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