The NFL's owners voted unanimously today at the league meetings in Atlanta to opt out of their labor agreement with the players in 2011.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement, extended most recently in 2006, gave both the NFL and the NFLPA the option to shorten the deal, which could have continued through the 2012 season, by one or two years. The owners, in a league statement, said there are elements of the deal "that simply are not working" and stated, "We are resolved to do our best to achieve a fair agreement that will allow labor peace to continue through and beyond the 2011 season."
"We have guaranteed three more years of NFL football," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "We are not in dire straits — we've never said that. But the agreement isn't working, and we're looking to get a more fair and equitable deal."
New York Jets owner Woody Johnson echoed Goodell's remarks from the meetings.
"The CBA, as it currently operates, does not work for the clubs," Johnson said. "Commissioner Goodell and our owners' committee will work tirelessly with the NFLPA. We want to secure a labor agreement that will preserve a partnership with the players' union that is fair to the clubs and the players and is good for the game."
Even without a new agreement, NFL football will be played without threat of interruption for at least the next three seasons. The 2008 and 2009 seasons will continue to be played under a salary cap. If there is no new agreement before the 2010 season, that season will be played without a salary cap under rules that also limit the free agency rights of the players. If not extended, the agreement would expire at the end of the 2010 league year.
Players union head Gene Upshaw said in a conference call with reporters today: "All this means is that we will have football until 2010 and not until 2012. ... March of 2010 — that's what we see as the realistic deadline."
The NFL earns substantial revenues, but the clubs are obligated by the CBA to spend substantially more than half their revenues — almost $4.5 billion this year alone — on player costs.
In addition, as the league has stressed to the union, the clubs must spend significant and growing amounts on stadium construction, operations and improvements to respond to the interests and demands of the NFL's fans.
The owners feel the current labor agreement does not adequately recognize the costs of generating their revenues, the largest share of which go to the players, and doesn't recognize that those costs have increased substantially — and at an ever-increasing rate — in recent years during a difficult climate for the U.S. economy. As a result, the owners say that under the terms of the current agreement, the clubs' incentive to invest in the game is threatened.
Two of those other elements that the NFL says are "irrational":
* � As interpreted by the courts, the current CBA effectively prohibits the clubs from recouping bonuses paid to players who subsequently breach their contracts or refuse to perform.
* � Under the current system, some rookies are able to secure contracts that pay them more than proven veterans.
The NFL said in its statement that its objective "is to fix these problems in a new CBA, one that will provide adequate incentives to grow the game, ensure the unparalleled competitive balance that has sustained our fans' interest, and afford the players fair and increasing compensation and benefits."
Johnson is optimistic the sides can strike a new deal and avoid an interruption in play.
"Everyone should remember that we have at least three more seasons of football before the CBA expires," he said. "Our goal is to maintain labor peace through the 2011 season and beyond."