An easy solution for fixing the NFL’s labor stalemate 

The new deadline for NFL owners to reach an agreement with the NFLPA is Friday night, and the clock is ticking. In the spirit of compromise, here is an equitable split of the four key negotiating points:

1. The $9 billion revenue pie

Players: The players are perfectly happy with things the way they are, probably because they currently receive 60 percent of the league’s revenue. They point out that revenues are at an all-time high, so the owners should have nothing to complain about.

Owners: The owners want to take another $1 billion off the top to cover increasing costs of operations and a desire to grow the game in the present and future. They think it’s unreasonable for the players to continue getting 60 percent, noting that player compensation has doubled in the past 10 years.

Who wins: The players want the owners to open their books and prove their financial woes. The owners want to be taken at their word. Ultimately, the players’ contentment with the current deal is a clear sign their cut is too large. Give this one to the owners.

2. The 18-game schedule

Players: The average life span of an NFL career is just 3½ seasons — a very short period of earning potential for players. Extending the season by two more regular-season games increases the risk of serious injury and adds more wear-and-tear on a brutal schedule that breaks down strong athletes at an already-alarming rate.

Owners: We’re just looking out for the fans, the owners declare, and the fans despise the four preseason games. Eighteen games gives fans more for their money.

Who wins: Nobody should be asked to do more work for less pay. If the owners and commissioner Roger Goodell truly cared about player safety, as they declared all season, they wouldn’t mandate career-killing 18-game seasons. Score one for the players.

3. The rookie salary scale

Players: Rookie players are paid solely on their potential, and that has worked out rather well for the players. When Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry can become the highest paid safety of all time before playing a down, it gives veterans such as Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed all the leverage they need to ask for new, larger contracts.

Owners: The owners know that, in order to get players to sign, they must fork out tens of millions in guaranteed money without knowing if they have Sam Bradford or JaMarcus Russell. A rookie cap would free up more money for deserving veterans.

Who wins: The NBA rookie pay scale should serve as a model for the NFL. The owners should prevail here.

4. Retiree health care

Players: Even the best coverage isn’t always enough for players who have suffered multiple brain injuries or endured multiple surgeries that will impact them for the rest of their lives. They want the owners to commit at least 2 percent of their profits (roughly $320 million) to a “legacy fund” for retired players.

Owners: The owners have countered with up to $100 million for such a fund, and believe today’s players should shoulder some of the responsibility for the care of the old-timers who paved the way before them.

Who wins: The NFLPA has no right to play the victim card, since the late Gene Upshaw infamously ignored the pleas of retired players for help, opting instead to negotiate higher salaries for current players. Still, the owners should offer more than just five years of coverage to players who have decades of ailments awaiting them. Pay the 2 percent, owners.

So there you have it: A 2-2 split of the core issues of the negotiation. Now get it done.

Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@sfexaminer.com.

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