NFL Owners Opt Out Of Labour Deal

The NFL owners voted unanimously to opt out of the current labour agreement with the players in 2010 rather 2013. If the parties don’t agree to a new deal, we would see the first season with no salary cap since 1993.

Both Upshaw and commissioner Roger Goodell were reasonably optimistic that an agreement could be reached before the start of the 2010 free-agent season, presumably in March of that year. If there is none, that would be the first season without a salary cap since the year after the 1993 labor contract was signed, ending more than a half-decade without labor strife.

[NFL Players Association executive director Gene] Upshaw suggested that once the cap went away, the union would never let one back. [Commissioner Roger] Goodell suggested that might be rhetoric — that the owners weren’t worried about playing without a cap and that some system would be put in place that could work.


There are, in fact, incentives to prevent even an uncapped season.

There are suggestions that the richer teams such as Washington and Dallas would spend millions on top free agents and build all-star teams.

On the other hand, the contract extends the length of time for free agency in an uncapped year from four years to six and allows teams to protect one extra player with franchise or transition tags. In addition, the two-year lag would allow many teams to extend the contracts of their most important players, maintaining the continuity that is important to winning teams.


The debate will continue in negotiations and through the media over a course of months and years. Both conceded there might be no agreement until the deadline, which Upshaw suggested might not happen until the winter of 2010. So did Goodell.

“We’d like to get things done,” Goodell said. “But often it’s not until you have a deadline that people realize the consequences of not reaching a deal.” Upshaw added: “March of 2010—that’s what we see as the realistic deadline. I’m not going to sell the players on a cap again. Once we go through the cap, why should we agree to it again?”

Obviously the owners know more than I do, but this seems like quite a gamble to me. The salary cap has been a significant contributor to the rapid growth of the NFL’s popularity in the last 15 years. But this has been coming for a while; owners pay ~60% of revenue to players even with the cap. But Upshaw doesn’t want a salary cap and he doesn’t want to limit rookie salaries, either, leaving one to wonder whether the players are willing to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Dodd Harris
About Dodd Harris
Dodd, who used to run a blog named ipse dixit, is an attorney, a veteran of the United States Navy, and a fairly good poker player. He contributed over 650 pieces to OTB between May 2007 and September 2013. Follow him on Twitter @Amuk3.


  1. flypay says:

    “Labour” problems? Are we talking about English football or American football?

  2. It isn’t just the players who want that goose on the next dinner table at the expense of future years.

    Manchester United just won its tenth Premiership title in sixteen years. This is what Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder aspire to. Leveling the playing field when it comes to money is what made the league the competitive money-making machine it is. Somewhere Pete Rozelle is turning in his grave.

    Please note, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best team year after year after year, but if the NFL gets divided into a few have’s and a bunch of have-nots, perhaps they want to look at how well MLB is doing when it comes to the younger demographics.

    As a total aside, I can only assume the Rams will be headed back to Los Angeles very soon.

  3. Dodd says:

    Exactly. Parity, while far from perfectly acheived, is a huge driver of the league’s growth in popularity over the last couple of decades. It’d be a real shame to sell out the long term money machine for dubious short term benefit.

  4. A fetish for parity can be sub-optimal. Do we really want to have every game no different than a coin flip?

    I think it was Bear Bryant who someone once complemented by saying something like, “He’ll beat your’n with his’n or his’n with your’n.”

    Rewarding good management and coaching is something that is a good thing. Allowing Dan Snyder to cover his mistakes and decimate other teams with bad decisions and more money like, oh, George Steinbrenner, would not be good for the league, IMHO.

  5. Dodd says:

    I don’t make a “fetish” of parity. Which is good because I’d be pretty disappointed. But there’s no denying that the fact that any team can at least theoretically be competitive in short order contributes greatly to the NFL’s bottom line (I’m speaking here, of course, of teams not run by Al Davis).

    That the Saints could go from the #2 draft pick, to the NFC Championship in less than a year – and that any other team could do something similar – keeps fans in the stands and in front of the TV ads and sells merchandise. The system is part of what makes that possible and it’d be a shame to blow it up for short term $$.

  6. Well, you would know about Al Davis teams.

    Another intersting aspect of parity is the seemingly weird regularity with which teams that lose the Super Bowl fall apart. Quite a high correlation coefficient for that one. Makes you appreciate Marv Levy and the Buffalo Bills acheivements that much more when you think about it. It will be very interesting to see if the now no longer cheating New England Patriots (nudge, nudge, wink, wink say no more) manage to avoid this fate.

    Unleash the schadenfreude!