The NFL Is Back and Ready to Roll

Jeff Saturday hugs New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, as the NFL announced the end of the lockout on Monday.

By Hayden Bird 

While questions abound, one thing is now beyond doubt: the National Football League will return, triumphantly for the 2011 season.

On Monday, July 25, 2011, the NFL agreed to new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with no opt-out clause, (so we’re guaranteed a decade before another lockout can happen again) and in the famous words of a man who once saved from a similarly horrible fate, “tonight, I shall sleep the sleep of the saved and the thankful.”

Yet for all our jubilation at the return of our beloved pastime, there remains a lingering question.

For example, the NFL has apparently allotted $1 billion in “new funds” for retired players, with a reported $620 million to be used for a specially created “Legacy Fund” that would increase the pensions of players who retired before 1993.

No one outside of the immediately involved parties knows the details of this agreement yet. What constitutes a “retired player”? And is the newly added $1 billion taken from the players cut of the revenue?

Still, the agreement is in place, with an amazing amount of progress.

The Basics:  The crux of the conflict between the owners and the players was over redrawing the revenue distribution and in the end, there wasn’t much of a change. Sure, technically the owners “won” by forcing themselves into a majority of the revenue in an agreement that had previously been closer to a 50-50 split.

But the previous agreement had allowed the owners to take one billion dollars off the top every season. Now, that money gets included in the split with the players.

To summarize, everyone will be a little richer. That might be a gross over-simplification of months of negotiating, but it’s true nonetheless.

Also, the 18-game season idea went out the window. At least until 2013, when the owners can officially try and lobby for it again, but it would require that the players agree to it, so it’s not likely.

The cap gets reinstalled at a lower rate than in 2009 (there was no cap last year). In the near term, there’s a degree of wiggle room for teams who would otherwise struggle to adjust to a newer, lower cap in other circumstances (ahem Dallas Cowboys).

A new addition is a minimum salary cap. So to the people, who run the Cincinnati Bengals, just know that you can no longer nickel and dime your franchise. 99% of the salary cap must be spent in cash over the next two years. After that it settles to a slightly lower margin, but still guarantees a raise for players with minimum deals.

Does Sam Bradford deserve a large salary?

Rookie Contracts: The rookie contract situation is the centerpiece of what fans would call “progress” in this deal.

Last year around this time, the football world was looking around in unmitigated horror as Sam Bradford, the 2010 NFL draft’s first overall pick who had yet to play a down, was signed to a contract with more guaranteed money than three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady.

That kind of insanity is usually reserved for our Federal Government (themselves in a serious negotiation).

So the NFL parties resolved this issue, drastically reducing rookie contracts. Cam Newton, instead of garnering a deal which Peyton Manning would covet, can now expect a salary on par with a mediocre starter.

To put it in perspective: instead of Sam Bradford’s six year, $78 million contract, Newton’s maximum will be roughly only $22 million over four years, with a fifth year option that could up the deal to $36 million overall.

That’s a big change, one that rookies will now feel instantly, as they sign up almost instantly for their new teams.

Training Camps: Rookies won’t be the only ones finding the rapid conditions of the new CBA difficult to take in. Established players, coaches and fans alike will now be scrambling to adjust.

Keep in mind that coaches and players haven’t been able to officially talk in months. Now, in the blink of an eye, we’re told that all 32 training camps will be going by the end of the week.

It defines the NFL’s modern concept of speed and its central role in the game.

Free Agency: Teams and free agents can now talk, and deals can be officially processed starting on Friday. Between camps starting and a shortened free agent period, this should make for some perfectly bizarre scenes where new players have mere days to acclimate before showing up in preseason games.

And speaking of preseason games, they will come back starting August 11th.

So after months of trepidation and panic for the many millions of NFL fans, we can thankfully note that only the Hall of Fame game looks set to be a casualty to the formally closed Lockout of 2011.

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